Airbnb under fire in New York

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New Airbnb customer Aubrey Roemer is worried about the safety of her studio and artwork should she host an Airbnb tenant
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY JOE FITZGERALD RODRIGUEZ

joe@sfbg.com

Airbnb, a mainstay of the "sharing economy" that connects hosts with guests for short-term apartment rentals, allegedly flouts city and state regulations across the United States, not just in San Francisco. Unlike our foggy city and sunny state, however, the state of New York has aggressively pursued the tech firm in what can almost be seen as a "tale of two Airbnbs."

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a subpoena to Airbnb last October, demanding information on New York City's 15,000 hosts and 25,000 listings. The concern? In New York City, it is illegal for a room or apartment to be rented out for under 30 days without a tenant present, the attorney general wrote in the subpoena. Basically, "apartment sharing" without a tenant present is illegal.

Additionally, his office found evidence that few (if any) Airbnb users had paid the city's hotel tax, a legally required payment that hovers around 14 percent of a hotel's fees.

Unlike in San Francisco, where little has been done to address the ways in which "apartment sharing" runs afoul of the law, Schneiderman subpoenaed Airbnb's user data to give his office the information to hone in on how many citizens are skirting local regulations.

Airbnb refused to hand over the numbers. Now it's headed to court, and oral arguments begin next month. If the attorney general is successful, the public will get its first glimpse into Airbnb's role in dodging local hotel and rental laws.

Legal issues are just some of the concerns of two first-time Airbnb users, whom we met in Brooklyn, NY, in a Polish neighborhood called Greenpoint.

Landlord Jeff Meilandt, 66, and tenant Aubrey Roemer, 29, are also concerned about legal liability and trust.

Roemer's apartment is beneath Meilandt's. She's an artist whose recent trips to Bali inspired her work. Now she wants to go back and help her mentor, Wolfgang Widmoser (who studied under Salvador Dali), to make a film debating different art styles.

Roemer says when she's in New York, she "busts ass" to make ends meet as an artist.

Subletting her apartment via Airbnb would allow her have an income while she travels, she said. But her landlord, Meilandt, is worried about the legal murkiness in New York around Airbnb.

"Liability, liability, and liability," he said. Artwork in their shared home exceeds $100,000 in value, which worries him. On its website, Airbnb offers what it calls a "$1,000,000 Host Guarantee."

"The Host Guarantee is not insurance," Airbnb clarifies on its website, adding that the guarantee doesn't cover cash and valuables, including "rare artwork."

Meilandt is nervous about having a stranger renting for a short period. "My art here [includes] rated collectibles, and Aubrey's art is also quite valuable."

Roemer's work is strewn all over the apartment. Bursts of color depict her co-workers, friends, and also strippers from a local club called Pumps.

"I've been working with this group of dancers for about a year now, one is masturbating on that sheet to your right," Roemer said, pointing out a blue painting on cloth. "I would say I was interested by the direct honesty in their transaction. Directly offering their 'product,' if you will, without any guise," she said.

"That's what drew me."

Honesty in transactions is at the heart of the New York attorney general's subpoena of Airbnb.

In San Francisco, housing advocates worry that landlords and tenants have an incentive to reserve space for lucrative, short-term Airbnb rentals, displacing traditional long-time renters and removing rent-controlled units from the market.

Without clear regulations or enforcement, there are few checks in place to stem the consequent loss of affordable housing (see "Residents vs. Tourists" in this week's issue).

Comments

prevent a property owner from engaging in short-term lets. I'm not clear how NYC can seek to enforce that. As long as you pay the TOT (for temporary rentals) or keep to the rules of rent stabilization (long-term rentals), there is no issue.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 04, 2014 @ 5:28 pm

The issue in NYC is murky because airbnb can be legal depending on many factors: rent v own, house v apartment. While there are some apartments or building being turned into illegal hotels, it's not really a landlord issue taking apartments off the market. If someone wants to create a bonafide hotel, he/she can go through the process to register and pay taxes. Most are people who just rent out portions of their homes, like a boarding house. There is no clarity on the tax situation. I don't think the guest I am replying to is from NYC, because I have no idea what TOT is. The hotel taxes in NYC are closer to 18% which include NYS sales tax, NYC sales tax, hotel occupancy (which is charged per day and is one charge for NYS and one for NYC), and then a marginal transit tax. If Airbnb and Schneidermann agree to its hosts paying hotel taxes, then Airbnb should include it in the booking process, just like cleaning fees and security deposits. Hosts don't pay these taxes; they COLLECT these taxes to pass to the city and state. And as far as rent-stabilized, you are outside the law if you do airbnb because you are profiting from receiving a below-market rate.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 6:38 am

that the courts will be willing to treat someone subletting their room or flat for the week-end as a hotel.

Most people ignore it including the editor of this paper.

I agree with you that this is a very murky area ot legislate which is why 99.99% of AirBnB rentals do not have to worry about it in practice.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 8:07 am

These transitory tenants are not vetted nearly as much as permanent tenants, where criminal background and credit checks are part of the process. And who's to say the persons or businesses that sign up for the tenant service will even be the person or persons that actually stays in the unit? There's very little physical interface in these short-term rental arrangements.

At a more fundamental level, the housing stock is for people who live and work in the community. The city zones other streets and neighborhoods for hotels, inns and hostels to accommodate short-term residents, often close to tourist facilities and infrastructure. The city's residential neighborhoods are zoned for families, couples and single residents who are permanent members of the community.

If homeowners want to switch houses with a family in another part of the world, that's one thing. But if landlords want to get into the short-term rental business they need to build or invest in a transient commercial building like a hotel or inn where they are legally zoned. The neighborhoods zoned "residential" are not zoned for transient flophouses.

Any politician that doesn't respect the neighborhoods by keeping transient uses to an absolute minimum doesn't deserve to represent the neighborhood. Vote those turkeys out of office ASAP.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 04, 2014 @ 6:52 pm

They have more to fear from you than vice versa.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 04, 2014 @ 7:53 pm

Well said.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 21, 2014 @ 10:57 am

Then they can afford a regular hotel. #duh

Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2014 @ 4:11 pm

You have a problem with choice?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2014 @ 4:24 pm

You have a problem with enforcing the law?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2014 @ 5:58 pm
Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2014 @ 6:03 pm

You live in a big city. Scared of strangers? Then you should move to the suburbs.

Posted by Snoozers on Mar. 21, 2014 @ 10:38 am

Because being overtly cautious isn't a necessity for surviving in a city already full of shady characters that come from all over. #lolwut

Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2014 @ 4:14 pm

problem than the average low-rent tenant.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2014 @ 4:25 pm

The guests are mostly families from France , Sweden , Germany or a group of young professional Brits.
Airbnb is harming the neighborhoods not because the guests are untrustworthy but because real tenants can't find an apartment because airbnb hosts are renting all the places. Its huge!
Most hosts have many more than one apartment.
Its almost too huge now to ever tame. Hosts say its worth the risk .

Guests are becoming more picky and demanding.
They expect alot. They aren't the criminal
Types- the hosts are though

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2014 @ 12:06 pm

rent my home to a long-term tenant, a short-term tenant, or no tenant at all.

It must really bug you that you cannot compel me to rent out my home, but it's the law. Something to do with freedom, I heard.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2014 @ 12:50 pm

Try reading through your sacred Constitution sometime.

After you'd done that, show me the section that allows someone to operate a hotel in a residential neighbourhood.

Every municipality in the country seems to be of the opinion that zoning regulations are indeed very much constitutional. Despite apparent opinion, the constitutional framers were in fact not Randian acolytes.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2014 @ 9:09 pm

Trust the trolls. If they say it's in there, it's in there. Just don't hold your breath for them to show it to you. I'm still waiting for them to show me the section that guarantees the sacred Right to Profit.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 05, 2014 @ 9:24 pm

constitutionally protected?

I think you will find that they are. The Bill of Rights alone contains a few references.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 2:26 pm

legislate this and, not only have the courts so far not supported NYC's claim, but use of AirBnB has increased since NYC tried.

I do temporary lets and know this to be 100% legal. I am not a hotel. I simply have house guests who give me something for my expenses.

Non issue.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 2:22 pm
Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2014 @ 5:37 pm
Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2014 @ 6:03 pm

"Guests are becoming more picky and demanding. They expect alot. They aren't the criminal Types- the hosts are though"

Hear that, Steven? In the eyes of the Progressives, you're a criminal.

Posted by Snoozers on Mar. 21, 2014 @ 10:44 am

One of the condo units have been renting her guest bedroom through airbnb, in violation of the condo by-laws and the master insurance policy. She never told us anything and put our lives in danger by having these complete strangers coming every night. None of them were families from Europe as one of the comments claim, but single people. The insurance company informed us that if the rental does not stop, they will cancel the master policy as it does not cover the use of any unit as a bed and breakfast.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2014 @ 9:56 pm
Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 7:25 am

"Roemer's apartment is beneath Meilandt's. She's an artist whose recent trips to Bali inspired her work."

The SFBG! Always looking out for the interests of members of the oppressed working classes!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2014 @ 11:33 pm

Berlin cracked down on airbnb like listings because affordable housing was being converted to illegal hotel stays. About time SF, NY and others cracked down on these wiseguys who are knowingly violating zoning and other laws and pretend to inform their hosts about complying with local laws.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 21, 2014 @ 7:55 am

unless you are a tenant.

We live in America and not the former socialist east germany.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 21, 2014 @ 8:07 am

I used airbnb. And it turned out the experience was dangerous and unpleasant. I didn't get money back but I left on my 3rd day out of the original 2 weeks stay.

The condo I stayed was originally 1 bedroom apt. But the guy who owned converted illegally to 5 tiny tiny bedrooms with 1/5 inch boards from Home Depot. This is illegal and dangerous he also installed outlets by himself and this is fire hazard. Ever time more than 3 people use electronics, the broker dropped.

The angry neighbors in the condo building were banging the front door everyday and airbnb guy told us not to answer. The condo association put up a notice on the door and said this is against the condo rules. The airbnb guy was a very nice guy though.

And the issue is his place was Airbnb approved/verified property. That's why I signed up with this place. But his place was obviously violating fire code and his condo didn't approve him to rent out his 1 bedroom to 5-7 people (you don't believe a couple sleep in a twin size bed room with no other space) daily. I decided to not place myself in this dangerous situation.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 30, 2014 @ 1:08 pm

been great. I suspect that you made your own unpleasant experience.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 30, 2014 @ 5:15 pm

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of helpful facts, thanks for providing such statistics.

Posted by mobile games on Apr. 26, 2014 @ 7:23 am

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