Examiner Tenant Advocates and Airbnb About to Go Head to Head by MAtthew Abuelo

Tenant Advocates and Airbnb About to Go Head to Head
MAtthew Abuelo

On September 20th of this year, one of the biggest fights over housing will take place at City Hall as the New York City Council hears arguments for and against the hotel service providers, Airbnb’s operations in residential buildings. Share NYC Better has already stated they expect to fill the council chamber with both Hotel workers union members and tenant advocates.
The biggest concern for the consortium of groups is that the industry’s practices are driving up rents in many buildings, leading to increased warehousing of already scarce rent regulated apartments. These businesses lead to security troubles in apartment units due to the constant flow of traffic coming in and out of these buildings. The biggest danger, however, are the serious fire safety hazards posed by illegal hotel operations.

Commercial hotels and residential buildings have two very different standards when dealing with fire protection; standards for hotels are much more strict. Commercial hotels must have on-site fire marshals on top of a sprinkler system along with clearly stated maps throughout each floor and multiple exits on each floor. Doors must swing “out’ to allow for rapid egress. Doors in residential buildings swing inward – partly to safeguard against burglaries. The lack of these safety requirements in residential units are something which the head of Airbnb has refused to address in any meaningful way. Councilman Ben Kallos has alluded that the company may be putting their own profit ahead of the safety of tourists according to the New York Post. But Airbnb whose upper hand always has been on the side of financial resources is now attempting to reach out to younger and in some cases more liberal millennials by circulating petitions on such sites as change.org and cause.com under the auspices of helping students and middle class tenants stay in their homes.

One of the public officials who would dispute Airbnb’s claim that they are good for New York City is the Public Advocate Letitia James. James claims that the presents of the company’s operations is driving up rent in the borough. As of October of 2013 the median rent in the area was $2858 which was a 6% increase from the year before. According to a letter written by James to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, there are 8000 units being operated by Airbnb members with 2000 of them in the traditionally working class communities Bedford Stuyvesant, Bushwick, Greenpoint and Fort Greene where rents have actually risen 28% between the years of 2006 to 2012. Written in this letter, which was obtained by the Daily News is, “Airbnb’s rapid growth in neighborhoods such as these...is exacerbating the housing crisis and one of the factors that has unfortunately contributed to Brooklyn being ranked as the least affordable county in the nation…” Letitia James urged the company to police its own site and remove some of the most egregious law breakers who rent out their entire apartment(s) for less than 30 days.
The latest report by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office supports much of her case with its findings that 75% of Airbnb run apartments are illegal in that they violate the state’s Multiple Dwelling laws which first was enacted in 1929 and updated in 2010. Instead of conforming to local regulations, Brian Chesky and the rest of the CEOs who make up PEERS are now pouring tens of thousands of dollars into Albany campaign coffers to weaken or even over turn the law which would create a free for all in the real estate industry as commercial practices would flood residential buildings.www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/james-calls-airbnb-self-police-b...

For Airbnb’s part, as mentioned above, their biggest claim is that they help New York renters bring in money to help make the rent at a time of economic downturn. They are also staking claims to bringing in new business to local stores while giving tourists the advantage of getting to see the city in the same way that everyday New Yorkers have long grown accustomed.
To paint themselves as a populist minded company they have taken to telling hardship stories as a way of pushing the narrative that they help working class New Yorkers to keep their homes. One of these stories revolves around a couple from Astoria Queens, Bob and Gladys who were facing the loss of their house until they discovered Airbnb which supposedly let them stay in their home. The company also pushes the idea that the visitors themselves also benefit by staying in “affordable lodging” according to one of their petitions.
This ignores the fact that it’s already legal to sublease rooms in your apartment (or house) to “help make the rent” – this issue is between the tenant and the landlord. Single family homes are also not covered by the 1929 State multiple dwelling law so local restrictions against renting out rooms would not apply to home owners like Bob and Gladys. Renting to tourists may also get you evicted, something else, Airbnb will not tell you. If you live in a rent stabilized unit and charging tourists “budget hotel rates” for weekends at your place you could be evicted for profiteering. Airbnb will not be there to help out when you wind up in Housing Court.

On somewhat of a comical note, a sign that the company seems to invest little time in getting to know local laws. One of their now defunct petitions cite the wrong date for the amendment to the 1929 state multiple dwelling law. The date they give (2012) is two years after the actual (2010) revision, which is alarming considering their heads have promised to do what they can to follow our local regulations. Unless they mean dismantling laws, its curious how they seem so ill informed about the law itself. To be fair the person who made up the petition may have no direct contact with the Chesky or any other PEER’s head.

Wherever your sympathies lie, rest assured that there will be plenty of fireworks from both sides. A recent notice Airbnb’s intentions of enacting a “Thunder Clap” on Twitter. Unions are expecting to bring in 300 of their own members while community rights groups are expected to do their best in bringing out large numbers of their members in an effort to block the hotel service’s effort legitimize themselves in a city where illegal hotels have long been a hammer used against tenants. Stay tuned.
Until next time…