Airbnb Opposition Makes for Strange Bedfellows

Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal

Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal

There are some things you can always count on here in New York: alternate side of the street parking, the subways always running (except when they’re not, like late nights and weekends), the Yankees making the playoffs (except when the Mets do) and landlords and tenants being diametrically opposed. Like Superman and Kryptonite, oil and water, landlords and tenants have always had one thing in common – a mutual distrust of one another.

That is until now. For the first time in my memory, landlords and tenants are on the same side, working together, its mass hysteria. Or perhaps, it’s completely reasonable.

What, you may ask, has brought these sworn enemies together? That answer is simple: Airbnb. Airbnb is the world’s largest online home sharing platform, allowing individuals to rent out their homes to strangers on a short-term basis.

Airbnb has sparked outrage across New York and united strange bedfellows because it empowers users to violate state laws prohibiting transient occupancy, occupancy for fewer than 30 days, in class A multiple dwellings, most rental buildings. Airbnb’s platform is essentially an online black market for illegal hotels.

The prohibition against illegal hotels and our collaborative efforts against Airbnb here in New York are rooted in the State’s desire to protect New York City’s rapidly dwindling affordable housing stock. Illegal hotels drive tenants from their homes and deplete housing stock of all kinds. With a scarcity of available units, the cost of all rental housing in the City increases, making it near impossible for a hardworking family to find an affordable place to live.

We have all heard Airbnb’s argument that it is saving middle class New Yorkers by helping them to supplement their incomes, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Because Airbnb has repeatedly refused to provide its users with information about the laws in New York State, users of the site find themselves in housing court fighting eviction or strapped with hundreds of dollars in city fines.

This is one of the reasons tenants oppose Airbnb. The other is that tenants recognize the threat that Airbnb poses to affordable housing. Last year, New York City financed the construction of approximately 20,000 units of affordable in furtherance of its goals to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in 10 years. During that same time, Airbnb removed approximately 17,000 units of housing from the rental market. Airbnb has essentially erased any gains we as a City have made, and will only contribute to a worsening housing crisis in New York, where affordable housing lotteries are already like the Hunger Games.

Landlords similarly oppose Airbnb. First, they have a responsibility to prevent nuisances from occurring in their buildings. Airbnb guests often create building-wide problems, such as loud late-night parties, trash and vermin and even crime. In addition, due to Airbnb’s business model rewards commercial operators who warehouse multiple units, landlords see red when others illegally profit off their investment. And that’s not to mention the increased maintenance costs buildings bear as a result of increased building-wide traffic.

If Airbnb has accomplished anything, it’s that it has unified two camps that rarely speak with the same voice in support of my bill, A.8704, which would prohibit any manner of illegal hotel advertising. The bill would also protect tenants by requiring landlords to provide annual notice that using Airbnb, and other sites like it, could violate the law and result in eviction. Since Airbnb has refused to protect those middle class families it claims to support, the State has a responsibility to step in.

Over and over again, Airbnb has refused to partner with City and State leaders to devise solutions that would protect tenants against eviction and would help us to preserve our precious affordable housing. Then again, I guess it’s no surprise given that more than 55% of all its listings in New York are illegal.

Airbnb will continue to make empty claims about transparency, cooking its books and cleaning its data to paint a false picture of partnership. In the meantime, my colleagues and I in government will continue to stand up to protect tenants, affordable housing, and even landlords.

Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal represents the 67th Assembly district, which includes the Upper West Side and parts of Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan.

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