Lawmakers analyze how Airbnb affects NYC market

NEW YORK – With home-as-hotel sites like Airbnb doing booming business, New York City lawmakers are scrutinizing how the trend affects the housing market and economy.

A City Council hearing Tuesday is shaping up to be a wide-ranging faceoff over the pros and cons of short-term apartment rentals, which have come under scrutiny in New York and other cities around the country. Before the hearing even starts, Airbnb supporters and opponents are set to hold dueling rallies outside City Hall.

Airbnb and similar sites have become a focal point for discussion about whether and how to regulate the growing “sharing economy,” and whether it represents an innovative, person-to-person business model or an unregulated, unruly upstart.

Short-term rentals also have become a thread in a larger debate about affordable housing – an especially hot topic in New York, where it’s a centerpiece of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s agenda.

The number of New York City apartments and private rooms rented through Airbnb rocketed from about 2,650 in 2010 to 16,500 in just the first five months of 2014, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office said in an October report.

Critics say such services shrink the amount of available housing by creating incentives to convert apartments into de facto hotel rooms, rather than rent them to residents.

“Airbnb and the illegal hotel operators it enables are contributing to the affordable housing crisis,” the city’s elected public advocate, Letitia James, said in a letter to the company last month.

In New York, it’s generally illegal to rent an apartment for under 30 days unless the apartment’s resident also stays there. But Schneiderman’s report said nearly three-quarters of Airbnb listings violated city or state laws. Nearly 2,000 units were booked as short-term rentals for at least half of 2013, the report said, and some users were listing multiple apartments and reeling in as much as $6.8 million over four years.

De Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell said Friday the city has a strong enforcement system to pursue complaints about apartments being used as illegal hotels and will pursue those that pose safety risks.

San Francisco-based Airbnb said in October it had removed many listings that violated laws. The company says most hosts comply with the law, and sharing homes helps make New York housing affordable to residents.

“The majority of hosts use the money they earn to pay their bills and stay in their homes,” Airbnb public policy head David Hantman wrote to lawmakers in a letter Friday. It called for “smart regulation,” including allowing collection of hotel taxes on Airbnb rentals in New York, as in some other cities.

Some cities have decided to accept but regulate short-term rentals. In San Francisco, restrictions include a cap on the number of days an entire home can be rented out per year.


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