Tourists flock to Queens for beds rented in homes

By Bill Parry

The house-sharing website Airbnb is a growing economic force in Queens, based on research done by Manhattan-based real estate consultant HR&A Advisors.

The study showed that Airbnb generated $12 million in Queens last year alone. The analysis shows that 680 hosts in Queens lodged 16,200 guests in their homes, earning $4 million while visitors spent $7 million with businesses throughout the borough.

“Airbnb is helping Queens residents pay their bills and pursue their dreams while giving travelers a new, authentic way to experience New York City by staying in different neighborhoods,” company CEO Brian Chesky said.

Flushing resident Linda Landivar has been using the service for two years, renting two rooms in her two-family house to more than 200 guests during that period.

“My husband Robert and I are 3-D freelancers in advertising and we’ve both been out of work since December,” she said. “I get $50 a night for one room and $65 a night for a bigger room next to the bathroom. It really helps pay the bills.”

Landivar took over as a caretaker of the house when her father retired to Florida.

“He’d stay here for a few months every year, but the rest of the time the room was empty,” she said.

Landivar tried the six-year-old service that connects hosts with guests for short-term apartment rentals and had a guest stay in her house the first week.

“We’ve had pilots who need a rest between flights, European travelers stay here a lot and we’ve had out-of-town travelers who have spent the night after missing their flight at LaGuardia,” Landivar said. “I’ve never had a serious problem with a guest.”

The tech firm may have a problem in New York where state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a subpoena to Airbnb in October, requesting information on New York City’s 15,000 hosts and 25,000 listings. City laws make it illegal for a room or apartment to be rented out for under 30 days without a tenant present, Schneiderman wrote in the subpoena. There is also an issue with the city’s hotel tax that requires 14 percent of a hotel’s fees.

David Hantman, Airbnb’s head of global public policy, said, “The attorney general subpoenaed almost all of our hosts’ user data. We protested that demand in court, and now thousands of people have signed a petition demanding a new, better law in New York.”

Hantman speculated that the AG was after those hosts that abuse Airbnb’s platforms like illegal hotel operators and slumlords.

Schneiderman’s office would not comment on the investigation.

Rob MacKay, director of the Queens Tourism Council, has some questions of his own about Airbnb.

“There’s a lot of gray areas, a lot of uncharted water where people on both sides could come away unhappy with the experience,” MacKay said. “Travelers who stay in hotels have their rights. There are a lot of risks to both the host and the guest. What if there are bedbugs or lice in the sheets. Who’s liable?”

MacKay also added the specter of public safety to the discussion.

“What happens when you rent to a guest who turns out to be a serial killer. Who’s liable there?” he asked.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail ay bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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