Brooklyn Boro

Mayor signs bill affecting thousands of NYC Airbnb rentals

22,000 Airbnb Units in Brooklyn

August 6, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Part of the Montague St. Shopping district. Eagle file photo by Mary Frost
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From Montague Street to Columbia Heights, the Airbnb apartment-share website lists dozens of places to stay in Brooklyn Heights, and at prices cheaper than the nearby chain hotels.

A traveler can book an entire four-bedroom apartment that sleeps 10 people for $145 a night, or a “trendy two bedroom” for $100. Visitors can rent a “huge serene room” that sleeps four for $100 a night, or an entire garden apartment in a Brownstone for $185.

During a price check on Monday, a room at the two closest traditional hotels, by comparison, cost $250 and $300 a night.

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Airbnb rentals are extremely popular across Brooklyn. There are 22,000 Airbnb listings in the borough, according to the company.

These options may change in six months, however, as on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed sign Intro No. 981, a bill requiring Airbnb and other online rental platforms to disclose the names and addresses of their hosts, or face large fines.

The purpose of the bill, passed unanimously by the City Council on July 18, is to ferret out landlords and tenants who illegally rent out their apartments to tourists. Numerous housing and community advocacy organizations — including New York Communities for Change and the Metropolitan Council on Housing — had pressed for its passage, saying companies like Airbnb have sucked affordable housing off the market, exacerbating the city’s housing crisis.

“We’re going to go after the city’s most egregious operators,” said Manhattan Councilmember Carlina Rivera at the bill’s signing. “The bill will address one of the biggest crisis in our city — affordable housing.”

Airbnb, however, says the city is in cahoots with the hotel industry.

“We are disappointed Mayor de Blasio chose to sign this hotel industry-backed bill instead of defending the needs of middle class New Yorkers who rely on sharing their home to get by,” Josh Meltzer, head of Northeast Policy for Airbnb said in a statement on Monday.

“While the mayor himself has said regular New Yorkers should not be the target of enforcement, many responsible homeowners are currently facing aggressive, unchecked policing, and are fearful of what will happen under this new legislation,” Meltzer said.

He added that the company hopes to work with the mayor to create “common sense regulations that finally distinguish these families from the few bad actors who should feel the full force of the law.”

New York State’s short-term rental rules prohibit people in a building with three or more units from renting out apartments for less than 30 days when the host is not present. Many of the Brooklyn apartments listed on Airbnb note that the landlord or tenant is not on site but is “easily contacted.”

Up till now, however, enforcement of the law has been spotty, with most of the city’s efforts mainly going towards big violators — such as a Manhattan landlord who used Airbnb to illegally convert 26 rent-stabilized apartments into short-term rentals.

With the new rule, even hosts in a building with only two apartments — such as a Brooklyn Heights brownstone — will be required to register with the city.

Fuzzy Rules?

New York State’s Multiple Dwelling Law prohibits the rental of unoccupied housing units in multi-unit (three or more) buildings in New York City for less than 30 days. Short-term rentals in one and two family homes are not prohibited under state law, nor is renting a room in an occupied apartment.

While one or two-family homes have been exempted under state law, the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement considers rentals in one- or two-family homes to be illegal if the owner is not present in the unit, creating uncertainty over what, exactly, is legal.

Given the gray areas in the law and potentially “crippling fines,” hosts are nervous, Airbnb spokesperson Liz DeBold Fusco told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday.

Aggressive Enforcement

An organization called Share Better, which receives funding from the Hotel Association of New York City and the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, says it plans to spend more than $1 million this year to conduct Airbnb stings, according to the Wall Street Journal. When it finds an illegal rental, it turns the information over to the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement.

De Blasio, interviewed by Errol Louis on “Live Inside City Hall,” said his Office of Special Enforcement has been a game changer “because they’ve been aggressive and they’ve sent a message that illegality will not be tolerated and we’re going to deepen those efforts.”

De Blasio said the city needs the hosts’ data “because we have to protect people. Unfortunately … we’ve seen some unsafe conditions, we’ve seen situations where people live in the same building don’t even know there are strangers in their building, there is a host of issues that are raised that we really have to come up with proper regulation on, and we can’t do that without data.”

Fusco said the Airbnb just wants to see more clarity in the rules so hosts will know whether they are operating legally or not — something the new law does not address.

“We’re considering our next steps,” she said.

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