The hearing pits tenants who denounce Airbnb against those who profit from it

In a boisterous New York City Council hearing that pitted affordable housing advocates against supporters of the so-called sharing economy, city lawmakers on Tuesday spoke out against a short-term rental market in expansion which they say is rife with abuse and neglect and compromises low incomes. New Yorker.

The review of short-term apartment rentals, especially those sold through Airbnb, the pioneering home rental service, has intensified since State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, a Democrat, released a report in October that nearly three-quarters of all Airbnb rentals in the city were illegal.

Even as concern mounts in some quarters about the practices of Airbnb, the Uber taxi service, and their imitators, officials around the world have struggled to overhaul their regulations to keep up with innovative companies that have defied them. efforts to enforce the kind of consumer protection that has long been the norm for the taxi and hospitality industries.

In Tuesday’s hearing, which focused on Airbnb, city council members took turns ranting at what they called a reckless company that put neighborhoods at risk and undermined a housing market affordable already low. Speaking to a crowd of hundreds of people holding up signs that read “My house is not a hotel”, they variously compared Airbnb to a “marauding army” and an “epidemic”.

“No one should have to live in a building or next to someone where the apartment is being used as an illegal hotel, people coming and going, going in and out, no idea who they are,” said City Councilor Corey Johnson, a Democrat from Manhattan. , noted.

The hearing, which focused on how the city enforced a state law prohibiting people from renting an apartment for less than 30 days unless the resident of the apartment also stays there, turned into an extensive face-to-face meeting between two groups of city residents who each said they were struck by the rising cost of housing.

On the one hand, tenants have said their owners have turned neighboring apartments into short-term rental properties most of the year, displacing other low-income New Yorkers from affordable housing and welcoming unruly strangers into their homes. corridors. The October Attorney General’s report found that business operators, not hapless residents, supply more than a third of the city’s Airbnb units and generate more than a third of the revenue. (Airbnb executives say they have since phased out many of these operators.)

Long-time Manhattan resident Audrey Smaltz told the Housing and Buildings Committee that entire floors of her West 55th Street apartment building were now occupied by visitors who were cycling on vacation. “My friends and neighbors are being replaced by foreigners and tourists thanks to sites like Airbnb and others,” she said.

But equally distressed by the skyrocketing cost of housing in the city, residents said the money they made renting guest rooms on Airbnb had become indispensable. Joshua Greenberg, 39, a freelance writer, said housing costs had driven him from Manhattan to Carroll Gardens, Crown Heights and finally Flatbush, Brooklyn, where he now lives with his wife, Karen Wight-Greenberg, and her two young children. .

The couple now make a sixth of their annual income by renting a spare room to tourists for most of the year, otherwise Mr Greenberg has said his family will most likely have to leave town.

“In fact, this is our answer to the affordable housing question,” he said in an interview.

City council members have sharply criticized law enforcement officials in the mayor’s office who are responsible for responding to complaints about short-term transitional rentals. They complained that enforcement tactics lagged behind operators on platforms like Airbnb.

“It’s more of a reactive group, your office, rather than a proactive group,” City Councilor Helen Rosenthal, a Democrat from Manhattan, told law enforcement officials, criticizing them for leaning on complaints received through the 311 system rather than searching for offenders through the Airbnb website.

Elizabeth Glazer, director of the mayor’s office of criminal justice, countered that responding to complaints helps officials focus on the more serious issues. Although the number of complaints rose to 1,150 in 2014, from 712 in 2013, Ms. Glazer said law enforcement officials were increasing their ability to weed out “bad actors”.

Under pointed questions from board members, David Hantman, Airbnb’s global head of public policy, expressed concern that lawmakers would sweep away resourceful residents who occasionally use Airbnb in their crusade to root out the big boys. operators.

He presented the platform as support for low income residents. “People have to pay the bills,” he said, “and sometimes they take a second or third job, and sometimes they rent out a spare bedroom or their entire apartment.”

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