The Future of Renting Your Room for the Short-Term

I was gone for a little more than a month during the holidays—visiting family out West, and then housesitting for a few weeks for a friend. During that time, my rent was paid in full, but my place was unoccupied. I considered subletting it while I was away, but a friend of mine who works in the city’s legal department advised me against doing it. Unless I found someone to stay for a full 30 days, renting out my apartment for a short-term rental would be illegal. Plus, according to my lease, I’d have to notify my landlord that I’d be away and that I would be subleasing my apartment for a month. I ended up deciding to avoid the hassle and leave my apartment empty.

Of course, not everyone takes the time to take all of these things—city laws, fine print on leases—into consideration when making their homes available on sites like Airbnb. Back in November, the Times told the story of 30-year-old Nigel Warren, who was hit with nearly $40,000 in fines for illegally renting out his East Village bedroom for three days while he was away in Colorado.

WNYC has an update to his story today: Warren has learned that he can admit to the violations and get his fines reduced to $6,000, or let his landlord deal with the violation notices and get evicted from his apartment.

But Airbnb also has a huge stake in Warren’s case and sent one of their lawyers to observe the proceeding, which has been delayed until later this month. The company has reportedly paid $30,000 to a lobbying firm to speak to New York lawmakers about changing the law to make it legal for people to rent out their places for short-term stays.

Not everyone wants these laws changed, of course. Neighbors are often concerned about having a revolving door of strangers in their building, and short-term renters, unlike traditional hotels and hostels, aren’t required to provide information or backdoor instructions on what to do in case of a fire or other emergency.

I may not ever list my apartment on Airbnb, but I’d certainly consider using it when traveling to find a nice, affordable place to stay (Chiara and Edith reported at The Hairpin that they used Airbnb recently while traveling to Paris and London respectively, and both had very positive experiences). I like the service Airbnb is trying to provide. Is it contributing to higher rental prices in cities like San Francisco and New York and pushing out locals? Unclear. Does it provide an unsafe environment for neighbors concerned with strangers coming into buildings—another maybe, and Craiglist has filled that role for some time now. We’ll have to see what happens to Warren, and what the lobbyists end up accomplishing.

Photo: Samantha Bell

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11 Comments / Post A Comment

JanieS (#1,826)

I hope they nail the fucker to the wall.

@JanieS Yeah but how is he ever going to a rent out his apartment with a body nailed to the wall like that?

Oh Mr. Warren is funny. From the article: “Mr. Warren, like many if not most Airbnb users, had not read the terms and conditions on Airbnb’s Web site telling him not to break any laws,” and “Mr. Warren, 30, acknowledges that he broke the city rules and did not read his lease.” AND THEN he complains that Airbnb should warn people more explicitly about the kind of trouble they could find themselves in and that “they need to start being a little more responsible and acknowledging what happened and providing a warning to users.” Hilarious. Yes, someone in this case should have been more responsible and read the site’s t&c and his own lease and city bylaws but I don’t think it’s Airbnb.

@Deb of last year@twitter So I assume you can quote the terms and conditions of every website you’ve ever signed up for or piece of software you’ve purchased, as well as your city bylaws?

Or do you just assume that any large, legitimate-seeming website (or other business) offering their service in your city is probably not enticing you into breaking the law?

chic noir (#713)

@stuffisthings – Yup, I really wonder how many people read the terms and conditions on the ITunes website before signing that they agree.

EM (#1,012)

@stuffisthings @Deb of last year@twitter There’s also a good point in the comments on one of those pieces, that AirBNB is complicit by not having these basic legal premises built into the process of registering your place as a rental. They could have some pretty simple questions (Do you rent? Does your landlord permit short-term rentals? Do you own? Does your strata approve short-term rentals?) that would screen out a big chunk of illegal postings.

@Michelle It might not stop the problem, but it would give AirBnB more legal cover with an unsympathetic judge, AND make it pretty clear that folks who get caught knew what they were doing. Now if only Craigslist would implement an “Are you a serial killer? Y/N” feature…

@stuffisthings No I can’t quote the t&c of every site I visit or even my own lease, but I have access to both and if, for example, I was planning on subletting my apartment, my common sense might encourage me to glance at one or the other instead of blaming Airbnb for not personally sending someone over to read it to me.

EM (#1,012)

“Special enforcement officers from the city showed up while he was gone, and the landlord received five violations for running afoul of rules related to illegal transient hotels.” Was there some kind of sting operation to take down AirBNB hosts by the city police, or did someone report him? I mean, it seems weird that suddenly a special task force would burst in unless they were cracking down specifically on AirBNB, which would be a more interesting story than this “Woe is me, I don’t read contracts before I sign them” dude.

@Michelle I was curious about that too! The article has one quick throwaway line saying that officials don’t come looking for you unless someone has complained so he must have been ratted out by a neighbour (or maybe even the roommate!?)

EM (#1,012)

@Deb of last year@twitter Yeah, if his roommate was home and had to deal with the renters, and Dude in Question did not offer to split the profits with him, I too would be indignant– possibly vengeful! On a semi-related note, I want a Law & Order episode that is predicated on an AirBNB rental gone bad.

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