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