Airbnb hosts in New York prepare for change

Claudine lives in a semi-detached house in brooklyn. For years, she rented the two-bedroom apartment downstairs. Fox 5 News is only using her first name because in February she could be fined thousands of dollars for an illegal sign-up.

“I just know that we probably won’t be able to manage our Airbnb,” she said.

Starting early next year, anyone who lists a location on Airbnb will be required to register with the city certifying that they comply with all applicable city and state laws. But these laws – most of which have been in effect for years – prohibit renting an entire home.

In other words, in most cases the host should also be present in the unit.

It is also illegal for someone to own and list multiple units on the platform.

Enforcement of all laws is about to intensify.

“It really goes after people who have more than one place,” said former city council member Ben Kallos, who drafted the legislation requiring registration.

“[For example] there is a host that has 400 apartments listed, entire apartments,” Kallos said. “He’s not a host. It’s pretty much a Hilton hotel at this point.”

The legislation aimed to free up more apartments to help the city accommodation bite. According to Inside Airbnb, which tracks listings, of the approximately 40,000 homes currently online in New York City, almost half – 18,000 – are owned by someone who owns multiple units.

Fox 5 News single-family hosts agreed that housing in New York is a critical issue. They just don’t think they should be targeted in the same way as those who host multiple full-time ads.

“[We] are people who live in [our] neighborhoods trying to make a little extra money, renting a room or their place when they go out of town,” said Airbnb host William, who rents out his two-family home in Brooklyn. “The city is going after everyone, practically all over the board. And it’s just – it’s short-sighted.”

New York City Office of Special Enforcement Executive Director Christian Klossner said the city’s laws are clear.

“The law will actually require that only legal hosts can engage in short-term rentals,” Klossner said in an interview. “And people who have circumvented city laws and taken out of town housing will be removed from the platform.”

But Kallos had a message that he admitted could get him in trouble with the city.

“I don’t think we’re really focusing on someone going away for the weekend,” Kallos said, adding that single families renting space shouldn’t be “worried.”

Airbnb’s regional public policy manager Nathan Rotman called parts of the new rules confusing and “ridiculous”.

“[The rules] don’t specify exactly who is eligible to operate,” Rotman said. “And there are so many different requirements that most hosts are completely confused about what they need to do.

He said the biggest aspect of the changes the company is fighting has to do with single families – like Claudine and William – who want to rent their only place.

“Our goal right now is to ensure that ordinary people who live in their homes and rent on an occasional short-term basis are allowed to continue to register or will be allowed to register and can continue to operate after this law takes effect,” Rotman said.

Rotman did not push back against the tougher enforcement plan regarding multiple dwellings and listings. However, Airbnb still hosts users with multiple listings.

Kallos criticized the company on this front.

“[Airbnb] could have made it so from the start that only people who did the right thing and abided by city and state laws were hosts — they didn’t,” Kallos said. I am a person who believes in the free market where the government really should not have to intervene. But when people refuse to self-regulate and follow the law, we have to step in.”

Asked about Kallos’ claim that the company could have done more to remove several listings that were in clear violation, Rotman said: “Frankly, we don’t know who is who. And so without a system of record, there there’s no way for us to really do that.”

But wouldn’t spotting a host with many ads be easy?

“It’s complicated for us to make the judgment — enforcement has to be the city’s responsibility,” Rotman said. “We don’t want to play, you know, judge and jury on individual cases. It’s up to the city whether or not that person is allowed to operate.”

Until the final rules are released, Airbnb won’t say whether it will remove listings that don’t comply with all applicable laws, Rotman said.

If you would like to make your feelings heard with the City’s Office of Special Enforcement, a second public comment hearing is scheduled for January 11, 2023.

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