Not all of the dwellings listed on Airbnb are legal. New York State law requires that an owner must be present in order for rentals that are shorter than 30 days to qualify for a transient occupancy, which puts renters at risk for listing their apartments while they’re on vacation.
In New York City, one of Airbnb’s largest markets, roughly half of the apartments listed on the site are illegal according to state law. Airbnb has made money off the illegal listings since May 1, 2011 when a law passed by the New York State legislature the previous summer banned short-term rentals in the city. After the law went into effect, Airbnb did nothing to disable listings that break the law nor warn consumers that they were breaking the law.
Fines for violating the rules start at $1,000, and according to the New York Times, one Airbnb user faced penalties exceeding $40,000 after law enforcement officials paid a visit to his East Village apartment.
It’s not that New York City officials can’t see the value in the service. In November, the city partnered with Airbnb to lodge New York residents who were displaced by Hurricane Sandy. The units were rented for free and the renters were not required to be present during their guests’ stay.
But Skift’s report notes that city officials are still more concerned with corporations taking advantage of the system than cracking down on tenants who rent out their own apartments for the weekend:
“The vast majority of Airbnb listings are multiple units by the same entity,” says Sarra Hale-Stern, District Office Director for New York State Senator Liz Krueger, who sponsored the legislation that made short-term rentals illegal. “It’s not Aunt Suzy going off to London for the month. It’s corporate entities doing it 12 months out of the year.”
Airbnb is trying to work with the city to reform the law. The company recently launched a public policy blog to keep users informed of its progress.
“It’s not always easy to know how a given city official or legislative body may interpret a law on the books,” wrote David Hantman, head of global public policy for Airbnb. “Our goal is to work towards a more consistent, fair, and progressive set of laws so that the amazing community of travelers and hosts who use Airbnb every single day can continue to flourish.”
Image by Natalia Bratslavsky.