By Joy Bergmann
Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal has doubled-down in her fight to quash illegal hotels – including Airbnb short-term rentals of entire apartments in buildings with three or more units. Her bill would prohibit advertising of such rentals and impose penalties up to $7,500 per violation. The legislation passed in the state assembly and senate. If Governor Cuomo signs the bill, it would become law effective immediately.
Rosenthal says illegal hotel usage of Class A housing units, “hasten gentrification, cause security issues, noise issues, trash issues and cause general disruption to the quality of life of permanent residents who didn’t sign a lease to live in a hotel.”
The state’s 2010 housing law already prohibits subleases of fewer than 30 days. But that hasn’t stopped over 300 hosts on the Upper West Side from listing their entire apartments on Airbnb this week. Nor has it stopped multiple UWS Class A buildings from operating openly as tourist hotels advertising on sites like Booking.com. (Airbnb hosts are allowed to rent out rooms only if they stay in the apartment while their guests are there.)
Rosenthal’s new bill tasks the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement [MOSE] with policing the advertisement of illegal rentals. MOSE is the same agency in charge of enforcing the current prohibitions. The 2010 law, Rosenthal says, depends on citizens filing complaints about illegal hotels. Fines for first-time offenders can range from $1,000 to $5,000, according to Curbed, but few people are charged. She believes enforcers can be more pro-active if allowed to pursue those who are advertising their rentals. “We need a robust operation carrying out this law and all laws.”
A recent study of 2015 Airbnb NYC listings found that 55 percent (28,765 units) offered entire apartment/home rentals. The study characterized over 30% of Airbnb NYC listings as Commercial, wherein hosts had multiple units available. Such commercial players are the legislation’s priority targets, says Rosenthal. Individuals occasionally renting out their apartments, “are not who is disrupting the housing market. People with multiple units can’t continue to operate with impunity.”
Airbnb has said the bill “would punish middle class families who depend on home sharing to pay the bills and stay in their homes.”
Rosenthal says that because of provisions in the Communications Decency Act passed in 1996, sites like Airbnb are protected. However, people who use such sites to engage in illegal actions may be pursued under her legislation.
WSR reached out to five Airbnb hosts with listings on the UWS seeking their perspective on the pending law. None would comment.
An Airbnb user visiting this week from Texas told WSR that the service made it possible for him to bring his family to Manhattan. “We rented out a two-bedroom, with a living room and a kitchen, for less than $200 a night. There’s no way I could get this much space in New York for twice the price. If I’m coming to New York for work, I can stay with friends or get a small hotel room, but if I come with my family, this is the only way to go,” he said.
Rosenthal says she’s been battling illegal hotels since 2007, long before the advent of Airbnb, and that tenants are achieving victories against violators. The hotel industry has backed Rosenthal; two of her top contributors in 2015 were hotel-affiliated organizations and she participates as a member of the anti-Airbnb ShareBetter coalition.
A spokesman for Governor Cuomo said the Rosenthal bill is “under review.” Rosenthal remains optimistic. “We have every confidence that he will sign it before the end of the year,” she says.