airbnb, NY City Council, regulation, homesharing, fines

If the bill becomes law, home sharing services could face fines of up to $1,500 for each listing they fail to disclose

Photo: Quartz

The New York City Council ruled unanimously on Wednesday to advance a bill (Int. 0981) requiring companies like Airbnb and other home sharing services to share the names and addresses of its hosts with the city’s Office of Special Enforcement or face fines of up to $1,500 for each listing they fail to disclose.

Under New York state law, it is illegal to rent out an apartment for less than 30 days unless the tenant is residing in the apartment at the same time. The bill, which was first proposed in May, would make it much easier for the city to enforce the state law. And if passed, it could lead to as many as 50,000 Airbnb rentals taken off the market.

“I have a problem with any company that profits off the financial misfortune of working-class and poor communities.”

Airbnb, of course, opposes the bill, stating it hurts hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who utilize its services in the face of rising rents. The company also claims the bill is a move prompted by the hotel lobby industry, from which City Council members are profiting.

“After taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the hotel industry, we’re not surprised the City Council refused to meet with their own constituents who rely on home sharing to pay the bills and then voted to protect the profits of big hotels,” Liz DeBold Fusco, a spokesperson for Airbnb, wrote in a statement. “The fix was in from the start and now New Yorkers will be subject to unchecked, aggressive harassment and privacy violations, rubber-stamped by the City Council.”

Already at least one Airbnb host, Stanley Karol of Sunset Park, has filed a lawsuit and civil rights complaint against the City of New York. Karol uses Airbnb to supplement his limited income from disability payments and says, without home sharing, he would be unable to cover his mortgage.

Karol claims that the Mayor’s Office retaliated against him following testimony he gave to City Council on June 26 on behalf of Airbnb and criticizing the city’s policy. A week later, Karol was visited by OSE and issued four summonses totaling $32,000 in fines.

“Of all the Airbnb listings in the entire city, the City chose to go after mine — just days after I raised concerns that their hotel-backed legislation could jeopardize my privacy and rights,” said Karol. “I believe that the City has sought to silence me… Such retaliation is not acceptable and should be deeply disturbing to all New Yorkers.”

NYC resident Jamesetta Brown said Airbnb has saved her life, particularly as her neighborhood gentrifies: “Rent is high. I’m a widow and senior citizen on social security. [The] only way I can stay in my apartment is by subsidizing my income through Airbnb.”

However, a report from the city comptroller’s office in April concluded that Airbnb was actually making the problem of rising rent costs in New York City, by far Airbnb’s largest market, worse:

According to the report, home sharing removes housing units from the overall rent supply, increasing demand and driving up costs. Between 2009 and 2016, rents rose 25 percent on average citywide. Brooklyn was the worst hit, with a 35 percent increase. During the same period, Airbnb listings skyrocketed, from 1,000 in 2010 to over 43,000 in 2015. Brooklyn accounted for 35 percent of all listings in 2016, with listings most heavily concentrated in Williamsburg (8.3%), Bedford-Stuyvesant (5.1%), and Bushwick (5.0%).

Graph: The Office of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer

“I have a problem with any company that profits off the financial misfortune of working-class and poor communities,” said Jeffrey Ashley, a Crown Heights resident who says one of his roommates uses Airbnb. “I believe Airbnb is making the problem of affordable housing worse, and it’s to their own benefit. I agree they should be regulated and fined.”

However, the city’s move to regulate private sector home-sharing services, yet, its failure to penalize landlord and developers in a private housing market run amok calls into question the sincerity of the city in its efforts to truly fix the problem.

Still, several hosts have come forward to submit testimony around how Airbnb has been a safety net for them, as New York City grows increasingly unaffordable.

“You absolutely won’t stop us. [Airbnb hosts] will get smarter and more efficient at being anonymous.”

“Since when [can] the government tell me who, when and for how long stays in my house?” said Airbnb host Rodrigo Gonzalez in a written testimony. “Stop defending the hotels please, I pay my rent with the room that I rent through Airbnb. If you guys put stronger laws, I will have to move. Please!!”

“It’s saddening to hear about the changes to privacy and the issuing of fines for sharing our home,” said Airbnb host Brad Baldino. “I don’t quite understand why you feel the need to make these changes. You absolutely won’t stop us. People will get smarter and more efficient at being anonymous.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has made affordable housing one of his priorities, supports the legislation and is expected to sign the bill into law. If the bill becomes law, New York will join cities like San Francisco and New Orleans in regulating the home-sharing industry.

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