Where are all the Airbnb rentals? Buffalo officials unable to track them despite law | Local News

A Buffalo ordinance passed nearly three years ago requires residences or rooms rented to others for short-term stays to be registered with the city and inspected.

But only 50 properties are listed in the city’s short-term rental registry, according to records obtained by The News via a Freedom of Information Act request.

This is only a small fraction of the number of rental properties in Buffalo.

AirDNA, a data analytics firm, found 913 listings in July, meaning a large majority of the city’s short-term rentals arranged through Airbnb and other services are at unlicensed properties.

A lack of data, according to the city.

Airbnb, for example, only provides the exact address of a listing after a reservation has been confirmed. The rental locations on his map are approximations. And it doesn’t usually provide government-specific addresses.

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When the Buffalo Common Council passed the bylaw, negotiations with Airbnb were initially fruitful, said Cathy Amdur, commissioner of permits and inspections for the city.

But Airbnb backed down when asked to share data.

Due to its refusal to share information and the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the rollout of the order has been slow, Amdur said.

The city is working on a request for proposals to find a third-party company to track rental records, an approach taken by Niagara Falls.

Amdur noted that Airbnb is not the only provider of short-term rentals in Buffalo. HomeStay, Vrbo, Craigslist, and even some hotel-focused companies have entered the short-term rental market, like Booking.com. Yet the vast majority of short-term rentals are listed on Airbnb. None of the other services had more than 100 listings that weren’t also on Airbnb.

Asked about Airbnb’s policy of not sharing data with certain cities, its spokesperson said in an email: “Airbnb has worked closely with the City of Buffalo to help hosts become aware of their obligations under the local ordinance”.

While cities like Boston and New York have regulated short-term rentals in part to prevent negative effects on the housing market, Buffalo’s ordinance, passed in November 2019, focused more on protecting customer safety by giving the city a way to stop hazards or unreasonable rents and to warn absentee landlords.

Several incidents prompted the legislation, including guests locked in an attic overnight and revelers firing shots at an Airbnb.

“This legislation was not passed to punish people who wanted to rent short term,” said Delaware Councilman Joel Feroleto, who along with Southern Councilman Christopher P. Scanlon presented the arrangement. “We did this so that there could be a check-in process to ensure the safety of guests visiting the city of Buffalo.”

The ordinance mandates annual inspections of all short-term rental properties. It requires a Special Use Permit for non-owner occupied properties in areas of the city zoned as N-2R or N-3R Residential Zones. All landlords who live outside of Erie County must provide contact information for someone who lives in the county. It also explicitly prohibits rentals in apartment buildings and other collective dwellings.

However, for a registration system to work, the city must know which residences are non-compliant.

In 2014, the New York Attorney General’s Office investigated Airbnb’s operations in New York and found that “up to 72% of Airbnb bookings over the past few years have violated New York law.” New York City passed a law in 2018 requiring Airbnb to provide listing information so it can enforce its laws. Airbnb quickly sued and reached a settlement in 2020. This regulation established the rules by which the most populous city in the country was able to control registrations.

In Buffalo, the current system relies entirely on neighbor reports. When the city receives a listing report through its 311 hotline, the Department of Permits and Inspections contacts the property owner and informs them that the property requires a license. Amdur pointed out that a 311 report does not require the caller to witness a crime or other violation.

Without previous data, however, the owner can simply delete their ad and claim it was never offered before the city can take action. This, according to Amdur, is why it is important for the city to have historical data.

In cases where the city needs to remove an ad due to non-compliance, it contacts the listing agency via email. Typically, however, the city speaks directly to the owner, Amdur said.

“Based on the experiences I’ve seen, most operators want good guests,” Feroleto said. “They don’t want any issues in their property. And I think the owners for the most part have done a good job of maintaining the property, controlling guests so that there is minimal negative impact on the property and the neighborhood .

Feroleto said the bill gave the city the ability to step in when needed.

Use the map below to see where Airbnbs and VRBOs are most clustered in and around the city of Buffalo. To change the year, use the slider at the bottom. The data is aggregated by postal code; neighborhood boundaries are a visual aid only.

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