NY poised to crack down on illegal Airbnb rentals

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York state may soon enact one of the nation’s toughest restrictions on short-term rentals offered on online sites like Airbnb.

Legislation awaiting action by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo would authorize fines of up to $7,500 for listings that violate a 2010 state law forbidding rentals of less than 30 days when the owner or tenant is not present. Supporters of the measure say many listings on Airbnb already technically run afoul of the law, and that steep fines could put an end to what they say is a scourge of black-market hotels.

The supporters — including labor unions often allied with Cuomo — say Airbnb hurts existing hotels while taking apartments off the long-term rental market, potentially driving up already high housing prices for the people who live in New York City.

“These illegal rentals are not just breaking the law, they are breaking the back of an already dangerously thin affordable housing supply,” New York City Councilmember Corey Johnson said. Most rentals offered on Airbnb are in New York City, but the new penalties would cover other regions of the state, as well.

Airbnb is urging Cuomo to veto the measure, and has suggested a series of regulations that it says would ensure Airbnb isn’t exploited by property owners who regularly rent out vacant apartments, effectively becoming unlicensed hotels. Most people who list a rental on Airbnb are looking to make a little money while they’re out of town, according to Chris Lehane, head of global policy for San Francisco-based Airbnb.

“It’s baffling to us in this time of economic inequality that folks would be looking to impose fines of as much as $7,500 on a middle-class person looking to use the home that they live in to help make ends meet,” Lehane said.

Cuomo, a Democrat, hasn’t said what he plans to do with the bill. He has until Oct. 29 to sign or veto the bill. If he takes no action, it will become law.

The sponsor of the bill, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, said she is feeling confident. She said the state must take action to stop property owners who are treating their apartment buildings like hotels instead of residences because they can make more charging visitors nightly rates.

“In Berlin, Paris, Copenhagen, Vancouver — everyone is struggling with Airbnb’s incursion,” she said. “We’ve got to do something.”

An investigation of Airbnb rentals from 2010 to 2014 by the state attorney general’s office found that 72 percent of the units in New York City were illegal, with commercial operators constituting 6 percent of the hosts and supplying 36 percent of the rentals.

As of August, Airbnb had 45,000 city listings and another 13,000 across the state.

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