Despite high profile reports of $30,000 fines and people getting sued by their buildings, few New Yorkers realize that renting out their homes via sites like Airbnb is actually illegal. Which is why the company is pleading with Albany to help them.
According to Crain's, Airbnb is "lobbying lawmakers for a change in a 2011 law that makes it illegal for New Yorkers to rent an entire apartment for less than 29 days. Though that stricture was intended to curb illegal hotels, it's turned the bulk of Airbnb users—those who rent out primary and secondary residences for short-term stays—into unwitting scofflaws."
Here's a Brooklyn use case:
Photographer Catalina Kulczar said Airbnb helped her and her husband, Juan Marin, move to Fort Greene, Brooklyn, from the Upper West Side. "We had a month when we had to pay rent on both places, and we couldn't afford to do that," she said. Hosting guests allowed the couple to move. They still use the site occasionally when they need extra cash.
"We have a pretty laid-back landlord who doesn't live in the building, and my neighbors are all cool, and several people use Airbnb as well," she said. "We hold each other's keys for people who are going to stay in the building."
State Senator Liz Krueger admits that the legislation is really meant for building owners and landlords, "If you're renting out your apartment for a couple of days, this was not designed to target you. Somebody is going somewhere, and someone else needs a place to stay, so you make a deal—those patterns have happened forever. That's not the problem."
The tech community has a vested interest in making sure Albany fixes the law: Andrew Rasiej, chairman of NY Tech Meetup, tells Crain's, "The No. 1 issue that technology entrepreneurs want is making sure we can get as many high-skilled engineering and entrepreneurial talent to move here. If it costs $350 a night for a hotel room for a developer to come here for interviews, that's a barrier that may force us to lose some potential talent." One of the tech community's suggestions is to have Airbnb "self-regulate—such as removing from the site someone renting out an apartment 52 weeks a year." Meanwhile, State Senator Martin Golden has a bill that proposes would-be renters register with the Department of Buildings for $200.
Airbnb's spokeswoman says, "Eighty-seven percent of Airbnb hosts in New York list a home they live in. They are average New Yorkers trying to pay their monthly bills." In other words, Albany is preventing poor New Yorkers from paying their outrageous rents. We can't wait until enterprising New Yorkers wise up and start listing their vans, the way enterprising San Francisco residents do.