Office of Special Enforcement officials speaking at the airbnb hearing
Office of Special Enforcement officials speaking at the airbnb hearing

The battle between Airbnb and the state of New York continues.

Dozens of home-sharing clients, affordable housing activists and elected officials met at a hearing in New York City on Monday, December 19, to weigh in on a new law which bans advertising entire, unoccupied apartments for less than 30 days on Airbnb or any similar platform.

It has always been illegal to rent short-term, but now it is illegal to advertise. Breaking the law carries a penalty of up to $7,500.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“I live in the same home that I grew up in. I rent on Airbnb because it helps me pay my mortgage and tuition for my children.” [/perfectpullquote]

The hearing was held by the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement (OSE). City residents who use Airbnb came out en force to rail against the law, arguing that the service had become additional income necessary to make ends meet in a city where little has been done to curb the skyrocketing housing costs.

“I live in the same home that I grew up in. I rent on Airbnb because it helps me pay my mortgage and tuition for my children,” said Richelle Burnett, a resident of Bedford Stuyvesant.

However, a handful of local and state elected officials who stand behind the law, along with anti-Airbnb activists groups, including Housing Conservation Coordinators, The Coalition Against Illegal Hotels, West Side Neighborhood Alliance and Beware Bnb claim that unregulated home sharing only fuels an increase in rent and a shortage of available housing for rent. They also pointed to issues of tenant safety, when non-tenants are allowed to come and go on private property.

An airbnb host discusses how important the platform is in order for her to have an additional income.

“Tenants are forced to share their building with a rotating group of strangers,” said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who represents the 67th District in Manhattan. Those in favor of the new law also say that enforcement will driven primarily by 311 complaints.

“New Yorkers need to know that if they report illegal hotels, action will be taken,” said Rachel Stein of Beware Bnb, the first grassroots group against Airbnb from Gowanus, one of the most popular areas in the city for the home sharing service.

Others argued that Airbnb is incompatible with a New York state law that helps preserve affordable housing.

“Airbnb is not interested, nor can it be compeled, to abide by local law, including the NYS Multiple Dwelling Law.  If Airbnb complied with the NYS MDL, its site would not allow anyone to post an illegal rental,” said NYC Councilmember Helen Rosenthal. “This $35 billion dollar corporation has chosen to not only not comply with NYS law, it hides behind Federal privacy laws.  So, here we are, left holding the bag, with an arm and leg tied behind our backs, trying to enforce NYS law.”

However, Airbnb hosts– many of whom are renters and tenants themselves– made it clear that they want to differentiate themselves from illegal hotel operators and landlords who often use an entire building and temporarily rent out each unit to Airbnb guests. They went further to say that these landlords harass permanent tenants to leave, so that they can use those units for tourists.

Still, several Airbnb hosts– both landlords and tenants– testified at the hearing that, given the exorbitant cost of living in New York City, without the home sharing platform, they would not be able to stay in NYC. Some said they would be homeless.

“Airbnb has literally been a life-saver for me,”, said Heather Skye McField, a resident of East New York and a member of the East Flatbush Host Club. “Had it not been for Airbnb, I would have been foreclosed by law.”

Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal expresses her opinions regarding the legality of airbnb in NYC, and how it negatively affects affordable housing

Airbnb hosts also argued, there are far greater threats to the city’s housing crisis that the City has failed to address, such as unregulated development of luxury high rises. They added, rising rents and slumlords who harass tenants was a problem in New York City long before Airbnb’s arrival.

“The vast majority of New York hosts share only their own home and do not deserve to be slapped with fines that are worse than those given to slumlords who harass their tenants” Said Josh Meltzer, head of New York Public Policy at Airbnb.

April Greene, an Airbnb host residing in Williamsburg, said the City’s focus should be on providing a safety net for struggling families and that it should consider regulation of home-sharing, versus termination.

“We should regulate it sanely instead of trying to squash the whole thing,” she said.

“We hope officials hear the collective voice of hundreds of hosts, businesses and organizations who are urging the City to keep their promise to target illegal hotel operators, not middle class families who are struggling to pay the bills.”

This is the second story in the series, “Airbnb vs. New York City,” where we are examining the unique state of home sharing in Central and East Brooklyn– the opportunities and drawbacks– for local residents. 

Other stories in the series: Airbnb vs NYC: A Story of Estranged Bedfellows

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Isabel Guerriera

Hello all! My name is Isabel Guerriera. I was born and raised in south Brooklyn, mainly Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst. I recently graduated from SUNY New Paltz in The Hudson Valley in Upstate New York. ...

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