‘Wolf of Airbnb’ charged with rental fraud in New York

US: A so-called ‘Airbnb Wolf’ has been charged with wire fraud and identity theft in New York, in a scheme that saw him generate alleged rental income of $1 .2 million.

Konrad Bicher, 31 and a native of Florida, was arrested in June but was charged by federal prosecutors in New York last Thursday. However, Mr Bicher’s lawyers said they would contest the charges and plead not guilty.

It was claimed that Mr. Bicher had signed at least 18 leases with landlords and put the units on Airbnb himself illegally, while also avoiding more than $1 million in rent payments in the process. It is further alleged that the defendant companies took out loans of $565,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program. [a loan program that provided small businesses with funds to pay up to eight weeks of payroll costs including benefits] during the pandemic, despite applications said to contain false information.

The scheme was uncovered earlier this year after a number of landlords accused Mr Bicher of dodging rent payments and claiming loans under false pretenses during the pandemic to gain the upper hand over other landlords New York landlords, though court records show he denied reports he ran an illegal short-term rental empire.

The majority of units rented by Bicher are believed to be in Upper Manhattan and the West Side, but two lawsuits have been dismissed since his initial arrest because bailiffs were unable to find out where he resided.

An Airbnb spokesperson said Bloomberg in a statement: “This type of activity has no place on our platform, and we have previously banned this host from Airbnb. We have sought to cooperate fully with the FBI in their investigation.

In New York City, it is currently illegal to rent an entire apartment on a short-term rental basis for less than 30 days, and six years ago the state also banned advertising of illegal short-term rentals.

New York City has long been at odds with Airbnb, and three years ago the city assigned home sharing platform to get data on nearly 20,000 listings in the area to ensure hosts complied with local short-term rental regulations.

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