Airbnb faces enforcement of new law in Queens

Airbnb faces enforcement of new law in Queens
Photo by Frank Franklin II/AP
By Patrick Donachie

The confrontation between Airbnb and New York City continues to fester, as hosts who list rentals await the possible enforcement of a law banning the advertisement of short-term rentals within the five boroughs.

There are 3,657 Airbnb active listings in Queens as of Nov. 1, according to a report released from Airbnb, including listings for entire homes, as well as private rooms or shared spaces.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved legislation in late October barring hosts from advertising units for less than 30 days if those hosts are not in the building with the guests. The fees can range as high as $7,500, and Airbnb subsequently sued Mayor Bill de Blasio, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the city of New York to overturn the instilled ban. The bill pertains to whole homes and apartments in buildings with three or more units.

The rental of units for less than 30 days in multi-unit buildings has been illegal since 2010, but the city intends to enforce a ban on publicizing the rentals.

Airbnb started in San Francisco in 2008 as a platform for people to rent out parts of their home as a way to supplement their income. The number of hosts has exploded since the company’s beginnings, and Airbnb now counts about 2 million separate listings in nearly 200 different countries around the world.

There are fewer Airbnb rentals available in Queens in comparison to Brooklyn and Manhattan, according to Inside Airbnb, an independent site that measures listings on the Airbnb platform. The greatest concentration is in Astoria and Long Island City, with fewer options available in northeastern and southeastern Queens.

The average Airbnb unit in Queens is available for 136 nights per year, according to an Inside Airbnb analysis of the number of reviews left by renters. About 39 percent of the Queens listings are from hosts with multiple listings of units, according to the data, and the site cautions that it is possible they are “running a business without a license and not paying taxes, and if they are renting out an entire home or apartment and aren’t present, are probably doing so illegally.”

Peter Schottenfels, a spokesman for Airbnb, said 61 hosts out of 1,229 in Queens had multiple listings, according to Airbnb data, though that did not necessarily mean those listings were illegal. Airbnb supplied data saying that Queens residents earned a median of $3,949 annually from hosting on Airbnb. He said Airbnb had scrubbed 3,396 listings of people suspected to be shared by hosts with multiple listings since November 2015, with 205 of those in Queens. Schottenfels said the hotel industry was behind much of the opposition from elected officials.

“We have a series of policy recommendations that we think would help allow people to share their primary home,” Schottenfels said. “The hotel industry is not interested in having that conversation.”

City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) asserted that Airbnb and other illegal rentals “hurt the quality of life in Queens by turning our neighborhoods into transient communities.”

“I applaud Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to crack down on illegal advertising,” he said. “This law will help deter people from renting their space illegally and will ensure that residential communities don’t become haphazard hotels.”

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.