Airbnb is a polarizing service. I myself fall on both sides of the aisle depending on when you ask. At its core, I love the idea of being able to rent a room in someone’s home here rather than pay $80+ for a shady hostel bed or $200+ for a motel near LaGuardia airport. Or rent a whole apartment for friends rather than two double beds, again at exorbitant prices. And there’s the added benefit of getting more of the culture/architecture/feel for a place than if you stayed in a chain hotel. I’ve also used the site to long-term sublet my apartment when I traveled (with my landlord’s permission), and to rent the second bedroom when I was between roommates.
However, I hate their interface, especially for hosting. I hate their customer service (or lack thereof). And it sucks if you accidentally rent to someone who doesn’t understand how it works and rates you 4 stars instead of 5 because “this is clearly someone’s home.” Yes, yes it is. It’s in my description. That’s how Airbnb works. Or how it initially worked, before people started taking advantage of the system.
The New York value here is that it is still easy to find an apartment or room in NYC to rent on Airbnb for a relatively cheap price. Regardless of the legality of the tenant’s or owner’s listing, as a consumer you can access this city for less than a quarter of prior costs. When I came to NY as a high school or college student I slept on floors, under desks, or not at all, depending on people’s availability. My friends and I could not afford a hotel room, and many hotels won’t rent to 18 year olds. Now? You have options, guys. It makes the gap between apartments easier, too! If you have a lease ending and a few days before the next one starts, you can just Airbnb a cheap spot while you put your furniture (if applicable) in storage somewhere. Good job, Airbnb. You may not be perfect, but you get some things right.
I was supposed to write about sellers in a soft market this week, but I want to write more about Airbnb instead. Dear sellers, I promise to get back to you next week. Lo siento. Don’t list in the interim.
New York’s city council recently voted unanimously to require room-renting sites like Airbnb to supply exact addresses and personal information about their hosts (full names, whether they rent or own). The justification for this is that people are gaming the system, worsening our existing dearth of affordable housing. There are legitimate concerns surrounding “ghost apartments” and apartments being used solely for Airbnb rentals, so at face value you can make this argument. However, the hotel lobby has a lot of power in NYC, and has donated extensively to city councilman-and-womans’ campaigns. This makes it hard to separate how much of the recent measure is to protect “the people” and how much is aimed at protecting corporate interests.
Because my relationship with my landlord is not the best (read: he’s letting the building fall apart around me), I’ve been careful to stay within the legal confines of my lease. However, most Airbnb hosts do not. Most new leases in the city involve riders that prohibit any and all Airbnb activity. There are some reasons for this that make sense. While I was careful to make sure anyone who would share my space was respectful, not everyone is so discerning. And if you live in a building where your neighbors are constantly Airbnb-ing to loud, obnoxious guests, I totally understand how that would be frustrating. Getting onto multiple leases solely for the purpose of making them into Airbnb’s and earring a profit isn’t really fair, as you aren’t taking on any of the responsibility that your landlord does, and you don’t pay for maintenance. It’s definitely unfair to make a profit off an income-restricted or rent-stabilized/controlled apartment, as you should be bound by the same limitations in price as the landlord. I was careful never to earn more than my actual rent when I was subletting.
However, renting out the other room in your apartment — for a portion of the rent rather than a massive profit — if you are between roommates should not, in my mind, be prohibited. People move out and leave the city unexpectedly all the time, and you can’t always find another roommate with short notice, especially one with whom you feel safe. It's incredibly stressful to share your space with someone who terrifies you, and it's also stressful to suddenly pay double because someone up and bailed on you. It's usually not even possible, causing you to fall behind on payments.
My moral qualms aren't the only reasons that people are unhappy with this proposed law. Multiple lawsuits have already been filed challenging the decision. Airbnb is obviously angry about it, but the second is a private citizen who rents out a portion of his two-family home using Airbnb. That is completely legal, as he is not bound by . However, after he testified about his opposition to the bill, since he sees it as an invasion of privacy (and I'm inclined to agree), he claims that city officials with Special Enforcement have been actively intimidating and harassing him. This ties back into the theory that our city council is in the hotel lobby's pocket. I can't say 100% either way, but I hate lobbies, so I'll let you guess where my bias falls.
I don't know what will end up happening, whether the challenges will result in a change or, if not, how the enacted law will affect short-term rentals in the city even more than the "Airbnb lease riders" already have. My hope is that, even if this does go through, people who rent out a portion of their space responsibly are able to continue to do so, for the good of both hosts and travelers.
Thanks for reading,