New York needs to choose a side. Will Airbnb stay or go? The newest regulations against short-term rentals don’t answer that question and the ambiguity hurts innocent residents as much as it helps corrupt landlords.
The crackdown on Airbnb started in 2010 when New York amended its Multiple Dwelling Law to prohibit apartments from being rented out for less than 30 days. The only exception was if a “permanent resident” of that apartment was present during the rental period. In other words, an Airbnb renter couldn’t have the place to himself during a 10-day trip to the city.
But that didn’t stop crafty building owners from breaking the rules. Now it’s not only illegal to rent whole apartments for less than 30 days, it’s illegal to even advertise such listings on Airbnb’s website. “Airbnb can’t have it both ways,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in support of Friday’s new law. “It must either police illegal activity on its own site, or government will act to protect New Yorkers.”
If you want to protect us, Mr. Schneiderman, New York can’t have it both ways either.
In a city of tiny studios and converted one-bedrooms, what is the difference between an entire apartment and a single room? A door? An alcove? A loft, perhaps? Imagine what shrewd landlords could do with that sort of loophole. The language in the law makes it clear — the city wants Airbnb’s business but they don’t want to look too greedy.
Meanwhile tens of thousands of residents are left wondering what they can and cannot do. They are not the money-hungry criminals that the regulators are after; they are the struggling renters and homeowners trying to pay the bills in this overly expensive city. In 2015 Airbnb released anonymized data that revealed 78 percent of hosts in New York earned low, moderate, or middle incomes; 95 percent of hosts renting their entire home shared only one listing on the website.
My friend Mike is one of those hosts. He used to live with two roommates in a three-bedroom apartment on the East Side of Manhattan. About a year ago his roommates moved out, leaving Mike with a rental he couldn’t afford. Instead of leaving, he put the apartment up on Airbnb; now Mike’s got another source of income whenever he’s out of town.
On the other hand, I understand the need for regulation when there are so many bad apples in the bunch. In a June 2016 report called “Short Changing New York City: The impact of Airbnb on New York City’s housing market” critics of the home-sharing service found that in 2015, 10 percent of available traditional apartments had been converted to short-term rentals by landlords. In Manhattan, where the Airbnb market was particularly active, 21 percent of these units were being advertised on the website. This practice, they argue, worsens the city’s affordable housing problem by casting aside low-income tenants for illegal hotels that generate millions of dollars for landlords.
And seriously, who would give up that money? In New York City, owning property is akin to being royalty and the royalty have no time for peasants.
So Airbnb lobbyists and hotel unions continue to pick apart at the law while the home-sharing website teeters back and forth in a no-man’s land that’s helping some and hurting others.
My solution? Kick Airbnb to the curb. Shut it down in New York completely. After all, we do have an affordable housing crisis on our hands. Two years ago Mayor Bill de Blasio made a lofty promise to create 80,000 units of affordable housing and preserve 120,000 more within 10 years. It’s now 2016 and he’s not doing so well.
Then there’s the issue of safety. Apartment building residents like myself rely on comprehensive background checks to vet their neighbors. With Airbnb, anyone can get in as long as they’re willing to pay the rental price.
It’s up to lawmakers to factor in these issues and make a definitive decision on who wins and who loses. Last time I checked New Yorkers were known for being the no-nonsense type. Our laws should reflect that too.
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