Airbnb hosts in New York City brace for changes

Claudine lives in a two-family townhouse in Brooklyn. For years, she has rented out the two-bedroom apartment downstairs. Fox 5 News is only using her first name because, come February, she is at risk to be fined thousands of dollars for an illegal listing.

"I just know that we won't be able to probably run our Airbnb," she said. 

Starting early next year, anyone who lists a place on Airbnb will have to register with the city attesting to the fact that they are following all applicable city and state laws. But those laws — most of which have been on the books for years — prohibit an entire dwelling unit to be made for rent.

In other words, in most circumstances, the host would have to be present in the unit, as well.

It has also been illegal for someone to own and list multiple units on the platform.

Enforcement of all the laws is about to ramp up.

"This is really going after people who have more than one place," said former City Council Member Ben Kallos, who wrote the legislation requiring registration.

"[For example] there's one host who has 400 apartments being listed, whole apartments," Kallos said. "They're not a host. They're pretty much a Hilton hotel at this point."

The legislation was meant to free up more apartments to help with the city's housing crunch. According to Inside Airbnb, which tracks listings, of the nearly 40,000 homes currently online in New York City, nearly half — 18,000 — are from someone who has multiple units.

Single-family hosts Fox 5 News spoke with agree that housing in New York City is a critical issue. They just don't think they should be targeted the same way those who host multiple listings, full-time. 

"[We] are people who live in [our] neighborhoods trying to make a little extra money, renting out a room or their place when they go out of town," said Airbnb host William, who rents out his two-family home in Brooklyn. "The city's going after everybody, basically all across the board. And it's just — it's shortsighted."

New York City Office of Special Enforcement Executive Director Christian Klossner said the city laws are clear.

"The law will actually require that only lawful hosts will be able to engage in short-term rentals," Klossner said in an interview. "And the folks that have skirted the city's laws and taken units of housing away from the city will be taken down off the platform."

But Kallos had a message that, he admitted, might get him in some hot water with the city.

"I don't think that we're really focused on going after somebody who is going away for a weekend," Kallos said, adding that single families who rent one space should not be "worried."

Airbnb regional lead of public policy Nathan Rotman called parts of the new rules confusing and "ludicrous."

"[The rules] don't make clear exactly who is eligible to operate," Rotman said. "And it has so many different requirements that most hosts are completely confused by what they have to do."

He said the biggest aspect of the changes the company is fighting has to do with the single families —like Claudine and William — who want to rent out their one place.

"Our focus right now is ensuring that the regular folks who live in their home who short-term rent on an occasional basis are allowed to continue to get registered or will be allowed to get registered and will be able to continue to operate after this law takes effect," Rotman said.

Rotman did not push back on the plan for harsher enforcement when it comes to those with multiple dwellings and listings. However, Airbnb still hosts users with multiple listings. 

 Kallos was critical of the company on that front.

"[Airbnb] could have from the very beginning made it so that only people who are doing the right thing and following the city and state Laws were hosts — they didn't," Kallos said. "I'm a person who believes in the free market where government really shouldn't have to intervene. But when folks refuse to self-regulate and follow the law, we do have to step in."

Asked about Kallos' assertion that the company could have done more to take down multiple listings that were in obvious violation, Rotman said, "Quite frankly, we don't know who's who. And so without a registration system there is no way for us to actually do that."

But wouldn't spotting a host with numerous listings be straightforward?

"It's complicated for us to make the judgment call — the enforcement has to be the city's responsibility," Rotman said. "We don't want to be playing, you know, judge and jury on the individual cases. It's up to the city to choose whether or not this individual is allowed to operate."

Until the final rules are released, Airbnb won't say if it will remove any listings that are not following all the applicable laws, Rotman said. 

 If you'd like to make your feelings heard with the city's Office of Special Enforcement, a second public comment hearing is scheduled for Jan. 11, 2023.