Let’s not hand Airbnb the keys to New York City

By Steven Spinola

Last week, a group of City Council Members called for increasing the size of the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement (OSE) in order to address the rising concerns surrounding Airbnb and other short-term rental services.

This task force is dedicated to coordinating efforts in all five boroughs to address general quality of life issues, dangerous conditions at City properties, and illegal conversions of apartments into hostels.

The Council wants to add 25 staffers to the OSE, which now consists of 12 assigned workers.

This proposal from the Council is an encouraging one, increasing the number of inspectors would result in significant revenue for the city through fines for building-and-code and fire safety violations.

More importantly, REBNY members share the Council’s concerns about the safety of all tenants.

What happens when the keys to the front door are shared or a security code is given out? These keys or passcodes can be duplicated and given to others.

We are concerned about the safety of the tenant in an apartment staying with a complete stranger.

There are fire hazard and public safety issues that come with adding people in the hallways and elevators as well as luggage stored in the building lobby.

Even the legal process of letting a tenant rent out a room while they are there creates some of these problems.

The Rent Stabilization law should not allow for unsafe conditions and we support strong enforcement of laws designed to prevent a residential building from becoming a Bed and Breakfast.

Meanwhile, a recent court decision was the first to flatly evict a tenant in a rent-stabilized apartment for using Airbnb in direct violation of city law.

This Hell’s Kitchen tenant was renting out his rent-stabilized apartment on 42nd Street for $649 per night, yet was living with his family in a million-dollar-plus home in Queens at the same time.

In addition to the ethical issues involved here, there is another point that is worth mentioning.

This case highlights a troubling loophole in Rent Stabilization Law. If this tenant were occupying this apartment as his primary residence, he would be entitled to the rent protection afforded under the Rent Stabilization Law, and his ownership of a million-dollar home in Queens would not jeopardize his status as a rent-regulated tenant in his Manhattan apartment.

According to the facts of this particular case, this person was paying a rent on this apartment which was $3,000 less per month than the market value would command.

Why should anyone who owns a home anywhere be subsidized by rent regulations for an apartment, whether it is his or her primary residence or not? Rent regulation is not intended to help someone pay their mortgage for their Jersey Shore retreat.

This loophole should be closed and rent regulation protection should not be provided to occupants who own a home somewhere else.

What is more worrisome is a recent Capital New York study, which analyzed data from Airbnb’s website and determined that over 58 percent of Airbnb listings in New York City violate the New York State Multiple Dwellings Law (MDL), Of this 58 percent, 10,000 alone are located in Manhattan.

Violation of the MDL presents a series of other problems, ranging from safety issues to affordability and community character.

In other REBNY news:

March 20 is the next Residential Rental Clinic Seminar, “Pitching Landlords and Developers for Exclusive Listings.” Featuring Karla Saladino of Mirador Real Estate as its guest speaker, this seminar will take place in the Mendik Education Center from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., and is free for REBNY members. For more information, contact Yesenia Dhanraj at YDhanraj@rebny.com.

March 31 is the REBNY Members’ Luncheon! From 11:45 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., join REBNY members and industry leaders as they gather to hear guest speakers Scott Rechler, CEO of RXR Realty, Douglas Harmon, Senior Managing Director of Eastdil Secured, and Jeff Sutton, Founder and President of Wharton Properties, as they discuss “Market Forces & Factors Behind Today’s Billion Dollar Retail & Office Deals.” The Luncheon will be at the Hilton New York, and more information can be found either on REBNY.com or by contacting Ossie Shemtov at OShemtov@rebny.com.

Submissions for Retail Deal of the Year are due on April 2 by 5 p.m.! Be sure to check the official contest rules at rebny.com, and for more information contact Desiree Jones at DJones@rebny.com.