Governor Cuomo may have signed legislation on Friday making it illegal for New Yorkers to advertise entire apartments on Airbnb for less than 30 days—but the law is complaint-based, meaning landlords with illegal listings will only be punished if the city manages to find out about them.
On its face, the new legislation may seem like a ban on short-term rentals, but that ban was already in place. The most recent legislation prohibits advertising these listings, which are already illegal in and of themselves.
"Under the State Multiple Dwelling Law, it was already illegal to rent out an entire apartment in a residential building with three or more units for less than 30 days, unless the primary resident is presesnt," Senator Liz Krueger told Gothamist via email. "That continues to be the case. As for what has changed now that the Governor has signed the new bill, I would say this: if you weren't breaking the law yesterday, you're not breaking the law today."
A staffer from Senator Krueger's office told Gothamist that the new legislation gives the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement, which responds to complaints of illegal hotels and issues fines, "an extra tool in their belt to prove you're breaking the existing laws. They can look on Airbnb and see evidence that you're breaking the law."
As was the case before, the OSE issues fines on a complaint-only basis, meaning they won't be scouring Airbnb's thousands of listings to look for possible illegal hotels. However, now they're able to issue fines directly to whoever is posting the listing—under previous legislation, the building's landlord would be fined and issued a violation even if a tenant was responsible for the listing. Unfortunately for the city, this means serial Airbnb landlords won't necessarily be caught—at least not until someone turns them in. Legislators hope steep fines will prevent landlords from illegally advertising apartments, but the law is more punitive than prohibitive.
"Despite these new rules, the majority of Airbnb listings are legal in New York City and New Yorkers remain free to list their home on our platform," Airbnb spokesperson Peter Schottenfels told Gothamist.
"Our concern with this bill has always been that it exacerbates an existing problem: New York law fails to distinguish between everyday New Yorkers who occasionally share their home and commercial operators who remove permanent housing from the market," Schottenfels said.
Schottenfels added that Airbnb has always asked users to follow local regulations, but the current law is "confusing to most New Yorkers and there is no way it can be reflected on the platform."
However, a staffer from Senator Krueger's office told Gothamist that OSE inspectors are able to distinguish between legal and illegal listings once a complaint has been made.
As promised, Airbnb responded to the legislation with a lawsuit and have hired Gibson Dunn, a firm responsible for giving a voice to the voiceless. Just kidding! Partners from Gibson Dunn are best known for covering for Chris Christie in Bridgegate, fighting New York State over its new $15 minimum wage, and representing Dubya in the 2000 Bush v. Gore Supreme Court Case.