After yesterday's contentious eight-hour City Council hearing about illegal hotels, one thing is very clear: city lawmakers do not like Airbnb. The point of the hearing was to discuss New York's short term rental laws and illegal hotels, but Airbnb, a popular rental website, became the focus of the criticism. Over the last year, Airbnb has been lobbying to get New York to change its short term rental laws, which make it illegal for someone to rent out their apartment for less than 30 days. At the same time, the anti-Airbnb crowd has been growing (several lawsuits have been filed), and last October, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a report that found that 3/4 of all Airbnb listings were illegal.
The hearing was led by the council's housing and buildings committee, and residents and tenants on both sides of the argument testified, sharing horror stories of living next to illegally rented rooms, and praising Airbnb for helping them cover necessary expenses. Council members grilled Airbnb executive David Hantman, as well as the city's enforcement unit.
In one of the more revealing exchanges, Hantman admitted that Airbnb does not seek out illegal operators, arguing that it would be too difficult. Committee chairman Jumaane Williams responded, "Wouldn't that be something a responsible company would do if they wanted to keep doing business in New York City?"
Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal said, "The whole reason you know anything about the people who rent on your website is because the attorney general required you to go through your database." The AG's report found that one-third of all listings come from commercial operators who rent out multiple units, rather than well-meaning individuals who are just trying to make ends meet (of whom there were several who spoke at the hearing). New data reported by Crain's supports this claim; data analyst Tom Slee found that 30 percent of NYC listings come from operators with multiple units. And more than 200 of these users are renting five or more apartments. Since the October report, Airbnb says they have removed many of these commercial operators.
City Council also took issue with how the de Blasio administration has enforced the short term rental laws, accusing the special enforcement unit, part of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, of being "reactive" rather than "proactive." The unit relies on complaints filed through 311, but City Council wants them to seek operators out through Airbnb's website. Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, said that using 311 complaints help to seek out the most egregious offenders, and pointed out that "the whole system is difficult to enforce" since they can't always get access to the apartments. In 2014, the unit fielded 1,150 complaintsup from 713 in 2013and exercised 900 inspections.
So, in sum, this issue, and Airbnb, isn't going away anytime soon.
· Hearing Pits Tenants Who Denounce Airbnb Against Those Who Profit From It [NYT]
· Critics say illicit Airbnb rentals are rampant [Crain's]
· Airbnb comes under fire during 8-hour City Council hearing [Capital]
· City Council blasts Airbnb executives in contentious hearing [NYDN]
· City Council Tries to Get to the Bottom of Airbnb Controversy [Curbed]
· All Airbnb coverage [Curbed]