Legislation Proposed in NY State Assembly Would Put an End to Online Advertising of Illegal Short-Term Apartment Rentals

Chart displays the percentage of Airbnb's listings offering entire homes in New York City before and after Airbnb took down more than 1,000 of them. Image credit: Tom Slee & Murray Cox

Chart displays the percentage of Airbnb’s listings offering entire homes in New York City before and after Airbnb took down more than 1,000 of them. Image credit: Tom Slee & Murray Cox

Elected officials and affordable housing activists unite at State capitol in support of the legislation.  On February 24, 2016, 300 members and supporters of the Share Better coalition rallied at the State capitol in support of Assembly Bill A08704, which would ban most online listings advertising rental apartments for less than thirty days per renter. Bill A08704 was proposed to the State Assembly approximately one month after a report was released to the public that tends to show Airbnb released its site data to the public only after purging its site of more than 1,000 illegal temporary rental listings. The rally was held on the same day Airbnb issued a letter to the State legislature to reassure Assembly Members and Senators of the company’s commitment to working with the City in creating fair rules for operating the home-sharing network.

Assembly Bill A08704, which is sponsored by Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, would prohibit online listings that advertise vacant apartments in “Class A multiple dwelling” buildings for short-term usage. The ban would enforce existing state law mandating a minimum thirty-day rental period for apartments in Class A multiple dwellings, which are buildings composed of three or more individual residential units. The bill would also require landlords to notify their tenants of the consequences they would face if they do choose to advertise their apartments for illegal purposes. If this legislation is enacted into law, it would make New York the first State to put a ban on advertising illegal apartment rentals online.

Assembly Member Rosenthal characterized Airbnb’s “ongoing and flagrant disregard” for State law as a substantial contributing factor in depletion of the City’s housing stock. “This legislation targets serial illegal hotel kingpins who advertise and rent out multiple units by providing enforcement entitles with strong new tools to crack down on this egregious law breaking,” said Assembly Member Rosenthal.

On February 24, 2016, Share Better, a coalition representing more than 100 State and City elected officials, community groups, and affordable housing advocates, rallied at the capitol building in support of proposed legislation. Share Better’s message is in opposition to the practices of Airbnb and similar online third-party operators that enable the illegal advertisements affected by the proposed legislation.

Assembly Members Linda Rosenthal, Richard Gottfried, Deborah Glick, Ron Kim, and Francisco Moya, along with Senators Adriano Espailat, Leroy Comrie, Tim Kennedy, Liz Krueger, and Brad Hoylman attended the Share Better coalition rally. The elected officials were joined by several housing groups, including Housing Conservation Coordinators, MFY Legal Services, and Goddard Law Project.

John H. Banks, III, President of the Real Estate Board of New York, stated that REBNY supports the bill. According to Banks, REBNY strongly opposes the usage of Airbnb and similar sites used to enable illegal apartment rentals because they have “serious safety implications and negative impacts on the quality of life of legal residents.”

The legislation is the most recent move in New York State’s fight against home-sharing sites, like Airbnb, that allow its users to rent out entire unoccupied apartments illegally. Opponents of these practices argue that landlords make more money by renting out entire units on a temporary basis to visiting tourists rather than for monthly lease-terms, which deprives the City of more affordable housing.

In November of 2015, Airbnb defended itself by creating the Airbnb Community Compact, which outlines Airbnb’s “continued commitment to work with cities around the world on responsible rules for home sharing.” On December 1, 2015, Airbnb released anonymized data about the site’s hosts and apartment listings located in New York City. According to Airbnb, the data provided to the public displayed all New York City listings that were active on the website as of November 17, 2015 and all of the active listings that existed from November 1, 2014 to November 1, 2015.

On the same day the recent rally was held in Albany, Airbnb continued to request that elected officials work with the company rather than against it. In its February 24th letter, Airbnb reiterated its Community Compact and set forth its three commitments: To work with cities individually and assist in ensuring compliance with hotel and tourist taxes, to provide cities with transparent access to its data, and finally, “in cities where there is a shortage of long-term housing…to prevent short-term rentals from impacting the availability of long term housing by ensuring hosts agree to a policy of listing only permanent homes on a short-term basis.”  “Permanent homes,” as used by Airbnb, remains undefined.

Despite Airbnb’s statements, its failure to provide its site data from November 2, 2015 to November 16, 2015 became the subject of a report revealing the data that Airbnb did provide was doctored. The report was issued by Tom Slee—the author of a new book titled, “What’s Yours is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy,” which is founded upon investigations conducted on the data behind Airbnb and Uber—and Murray Cox—the founder of the Inside Airbnb project, which is an interactive site that provides data linked to Airbnb listings world-wide on a user-friendly interface.

According to the report, Airbnb conducted a one-time, targeted purge of more than 1,000 “entire home” listings just weeks prior to releasing the data to the public. Further, the report reveals that Airbnb’s enforcement on this occasion was specifically targeted at hosts with multiple listings for an entire home—aka, the landlords making more money on transient visitors than they would on a monthly tenant.

On February 12th, Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Jumaane Williams, and Mark Levine issued a joint statement on the controversial Airbnb data purge, proclaiming to carry the burden “as lawmakers to pass legislation to further regulate large corporations who think they are above the law,” and urging the Administration to fund its own enforcement actions against illegal usages of the Airbnb site. According to Council Members Rosenthal, Williams, and Levine, these illegal listings only serve to exacerbate the affordable housing crisis in the City.

Council Member Rosenthal has been and continues to be at the forefront of the City’s battle against Airbnb for months and sponsored local legislation aimed at ramping up enforcement efforts against the illegally listed residential units Airbnb.

State Senator Liz Krueger voiced her opinion that Airbnb’s one-time listing purge was done to intentional mislead the public and that by doing so, Airbnb has clearly proven that they are not interested in working with City officials as they claimed they are. “Airbnb’s business practices encourage tenants and landlords to break the law, put their neighbors at risk, and contribute to the ongoing crisis of affordability in our city,” stated Senator Krueger.

CityLand reached out to Airbnb for comment, but received no reply.

State Senator Andrew Lanza is the sponsor for Assembly Bill A08704’s companion legislation, Senate Bill S6340. The Assembly Bill has been referred to the Housing Committee and has yet to be placed on the Committee’s calendar.

By:  Jessica Soultanian-Braunstein (Jessica is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2015)

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