I have to admit that I was pretty shocked to hear that in the early morning hours of October 25 of this year, 2 young men were shot at a house party in Bayside. I mean Bayside? It’s such a quiet, safe, solidly middle class area. But when I heard that the party host had booked the house at which this occurred via AirBnB, I became less shocked. In fact, I was kind of expecting that would be one of the details regarding the incident.
AirBnB is an online service that allows private individuals to rent out their homes as hotel rooms. Believe it or not, there are hordes of people out there either desperate or greedy enough to open up their homes to complete strangers seeking to rent a room, a whole apartment or an entire house. AirBnB claims it provides people financial stability so that they can afford to stay in their homes. However, this arrangement is completely illegal. You cannot rent out space in your home in NYC for less than 30 days unless you remain on the premises. Most AirBnB hosts do not do that, and therefore their participation in this service is 100% illegal.
Let’s think about why this is. First of all, most apartments and houses are located in areas zoned residential. Running a hotel is a commercial activity. Most AirBnB transactions are therefore a violation of the NYC zoning code.
Then there’s the safety issue. As a neighboring resident, how would you like to have total strangers parading though your building? How do you know who is authorized to be on your neighbor’s property or in common areas and who isn’t? How do you know when to call the police?
Let’s not also forget that we have tons of hotels in this city that play by the rules and collect NYC Hotel Tax, which in turn pays for vital services. AirBnB is competing with these law abiding institutions and its participants by and large rent their spaces out tax free. How is this fair and how does this benefit the taxpayers of this city?
And most importantly, there’s the housing issue. AirBnB has been proven to take away affordable housing from people who desperately need it. Landlords see that they can make a mint off short term rentals without having to provide the things that long-term renters expect. They also don’t have to deal with housing court if they are catering to tourists. So they convert their housing stock into hotel rooms and laugh all the way to the bank, while reducing the supply of housing available to the general public, which drives up rents elsewhere.
There also have been many unsuspecting victims who signed their homes up on AirBnB only to find that the people they rented it to used them in unimaginable ways. There have been reports that units have been used for orgies, porn films, drug parties and prostitution, and some hosts have had irreparable damage done to their homes. Do people trash hotel rooms? Yes. Therefore, common sense dictates that they will trash cheap private units used as hotel rooms as well.
The City Council is considering legislation that will curtail AirBnB activity in NYC. Too much regulation is never a welcome thing, but in this case, it is necessary. Unregulated AirBnB activity affects everyone in a neighborhood, mostly negatively. As I write this, 29 homes are listed for rent on AirBnB in Maspeth and 13 in Middle Village. We need to nip this in the bud before the quality-of-life problems experienced by neighbors of AirBnB properties in popular Brooklyn and Manhattan neighborhoods manifest themselves here. Or, God forbid, an incident like the one in Bayside happens in our own backyard.