Bill would allow “responsible” homesharing in New York City


One year after state legislators cracked down on illegal Airbnb listings in New York City, Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, D-Brooklyn, introduced a bill that would allow for “responsible” homesharing in the Big Apple.

In 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law making it illegal for Airbnb hosts to list entire apartments for rentals lasting less than 30 days, imposing a minimum fine of $1,000 against first-time offenders. The law does not apply to hosts who advertise beds or single rooms for short-term rental.

As a homesharing platform, Airbnb allows individuals and families to register as hosts, listing their residences online and on the company’s app much in the same way a hotel would list available rooms and accommodations on its website. Travelers from across the world may search these listings by location, price and accommodation and book accordingly.

Platforms such as Airbnb allow their users to exercise the fullest extent of convenience in the age of smartphones while also offering the variety of unique, personable guest experiences one might find when booking a traditional bed and breakfast.

Airbnb hosts from Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Rochester, Ithaca, Albany, the Hudson Valley and New York City convened on the steps of the Million Dollar staircase in the state Capitol on May 2 to call on lawmakers to support Lentol’s bill (A.7520), which would expand regulations for homesharing in New York while also allowing targeted enforcement of those who use their permanent housing to operate illegal hotels.

The “One Host, One Home” provision in the bill bars hosts from listing more than one entire space in New York City on all homesharing platforms, not just Airbnb. Hosts must also register with the state division of Homes and Community Renewal. Under the bill, short-term rental occupancy would also be subject to state and local taxes in the same manner as hotel rooms.

Advocates for the bill contend that digital platforms such as Airbnb have revived the age-old tradition of homesharing, and that the Multiple Dwelling Law discriminates against those who wish to join in.

In 2010 state legislators updated the Multiple Dwelling Law to prevent short-term rentals of fewer than 30 days in apartment buildings and other multiple-residence units.

“These laws were passed in response to a tremendous outcry from our constituents against the explosion of illegal short-term rentals in our city,” said Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan. “We heard from seniors harassed by partying tourists; parents who could no longer let their children play in the halls; neighbors whose buildings were being overrun by strangers; and even landlords whose units were being used for illegal purposes without their knowledge.”

Many Airbnb hosts rent out their residences as a secondary source of income, which advocates say is becoming increasingly necessary in order to stay afloat in New York City. Airbnb estimates that its hosts earn an average of $5,500 in yearly supplemental income, and 30 percent of hosts in New York City report that the income has helped prevent their own foreclosure or eviction.

“It enables me to turn my biggest expense — my home — into an asset,” said Israel Bautista, an Airbnb host from Queens.

Airbnb reports that 49,600 New Yorkers list their residences on the site and collectively hosted 2.1 million guests last year.

In the same year, Airbnb commissioned an economic impact study which found that the company generated more than $3.5 billion in economic activity, supported more than 38,000 jobs and generated $160 million in state sales, income and business tax revenue.

In 2014, the office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a report on short-term rentals in the city. The four-year study found that 72 percent of short-term rentals violated the state’s Multiple Dwelling Law and generated approximately $304 million in illicit revenue for the hosts. Airbnb itself yielded almost $40 million in fees from the transactions, approximately two-thirds of its total revenue.

The Attorney General’s Office asserts that units booked on Airbnb as private short-term rentals for half the year or more were no longer eligible as long-term housing options for residents of the city.

Critics of the bill maintain that such practices effectively crowd New York City residents out of their own homes and artificially raise rent in already crowded market.

“Short-term rentals, like those supported by Airbnb, pose a threat to our neighborhoods. When thousands of apartments across our city are designated as short-term rentals, there are fewer affordable housing apartments for families that need them,” said Assemblyman Walter Mosley, D-Brooklyn. “It should not be easier for people to turn apartments into de facto hotels, and instead, the Assembly should be looking at ways to make our neighborhoods affordable in the long term.”