New York City cracks down on Airbnb

New York City is cracking down on Airbnb hosts and guests to adapt as the city steps up enforcement of strict new rules on short-term rentals. But whether the campaign will alleviate the housing shortage is up for debate.

New York City Cracks Down On Airbnb
New York City Cracks Down On Airbnb

Since 2018, Tricia Tolliver, a freelance theater director, has been renting out the basement of her Brooklyn townhouse via Airbnb, earning more than $3,000 a month hosting New York City visitors for a few days at a time.

But after city officials last week began  enforcing rules prohibiting  short-term rentals in apartments like hers, Ms. Tolliver, 64, had to figure out what to do with the South Slope apartment. She said she never wanted to become a landlord, so she decided to keep it empty in hopes the rules would change again.

“I’m kind of hanging on to see what happens,” she said.

The new rules, which took effect Sept. 5, mean as many as 10,800 listings for short-term rentals will likely be unavailable, according to city estimates as of the end of March. City officials say the shift will force landlords to rent those homes to residents rather than visitors, helping ease the city’s housing shortage.

But to what degree this will happen, and how quickly, it is not clear.

In the short term, many hosts are scrambling: some are now looking for tenants. Some are trying to figure out if they can rent to professors, nurses or others looking for temporary housingSome hosts will likely continue to rent, but through an underground market. Some, like Ms. Tolliver, are waiting, hoping the backlash to the implementation plan will turn things around so she can rent the apartment again.

In the long term, some housing experts say, it remains an open question whether the new rules will help or hurt New York City’s housing crisis and economy.

Alicia Glenn, a former deputy mayor for housing under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, said she has never seen any data showing short-term rentals impacting the housing crisis in a significant way. Ms. Glenn, who negotiated with Airbnb during her tenure, said such platforms “opened the door to travel for hundreds of thousands of people who would never have had the opportunity to come to New York.”

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“As a New York booster, this is great,” she said.

For example, a tax on short-term rentals could help the city better leverage Airbnb. “The key must be how to capture this new source of tourism and economic activity and direct it toward improving the lives of New Yorkers,” she added.

The main feature of the new rules is requiring residents to register with the city in order to rent homes on a short-term basis. Short-term rentals are only permitted if the host is present during the stay and if there are two or fewer guests who have access to the entire space.

To collect fees associated with short-term stays, booking companies must now verify that the host’s registration request has been approved, or risk financial penalties: platforms can be fined up to $1,500 for transactions involving illegal rentals. Fines can also be imposed on hosts.

While Airbnb said some hosts experienced delays in processing their requests, officials said the system has been successful so far, and illegal listings have been removed from platforms like Airbnb, and VRBO. They said city officials have not yet responded to any complaints about hosts illegally renting out their homes in connection with the new system.

But the risk of a fine is too great for hosts like Aitan Weinberg, who bought a two-family brownstone in Prospect Heights about six years ago and regularly rents out the apartment below his on Airbnb. Mr. Weinberg said that the apartment, when it was not rented to guests, was where his parents stayed when they visited from Israel.

But now he is looking for a long-term tenant and estimates he will receive a 40 to 50 percent reduction in rental income. With no suitable hotels nearby, he is unsure where his parents will stay during their travels or where his other guests, many of his visiting grandparents, will go.

“I honestly think our guests, our neighbors or our neighborhood have benefited from having this,” he said of similar Airbnb rentals he rents.

Jason Mondesir-Cesar, 41, owned a two-family home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which he had been renting out parts of on Airbnb.

Mr Mondesir Caesar said the house, which had been in his family for decades, was jointly owned by relatives living elsewhere. He is looking for a tenant who can rent for a few months, in case his relatives return.

“Staying on a lease for one to two years is not a good situation for me,” he said.

While he understood the need for laws to prevent people from buying multiple units and then renting them illegally, he said he felt the current enforcement scheme would disproportionately penalize people who own one- and two-family homes, and could also exacerbate New York City’s housing problems. . .

“If I decide to foreclose, who will buy this house?” He said. “He’s not someone who was a tenant somewhere else.”

Guests may also need to make other plans. Airbnb, for example, said it will honor reservations made through December 1, but hosts may choose to cancel to avoid penalties.

Simon Fell, an actor who lives in Park Slope, said his father-in-law, who has cancer and has difficulty walking, had hoped to travel to Brooklyn for his grandson’s upcoming coming-of-age party.

Mr. Fell said he found a place on Airbnb, but last week the listing “suddenly indicated that reservations under 30 days were not being accepted anymore.”

Mr. Fell saw no other good option.

The new rules have also prompted Ms. Toliver, the theater’s manager, to consider what she imagines will be the “worst case scenario” — selling her building if she can’t afford the mortgage anymore.

“I’ve lived in New York for 40 years,” she said. “I hate that the city forced me to do this.”