New bill seeks to curb Airbnb in New York—by legalizing it

A new bill is being considered in New York to create exceptions in New York state’s housing laws for the establishment of more Airbnb rentals. 

A Brooklyn state legislator is behind the bill, which seeks to amend the state’s multiple-dwelling law, which currently prohibits rentals for less than 30 days in New York City apartments unless the owner is present for the duration of the rental. 

This law has been active since 2010, but surveys show Airbnb operators rarely comply with it. In response, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed hard-line penalties against deviant operators last October, but the new proposal is taking a different stance. Instead of punishing illegal hotels, the bill seeks to legalize 30-day rentals while putting measures in place to prevent Airbnb hosts from renting out multiple units at a time.

Democratic Brooklyn Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, the legislator behind the bill, seeks to put in place a number of stipulations attached to hosts renting out rooms on Airbnb that would include them registering with a statewide database and limiting them to one rental at a time, specifically their home residence. A hotline will also be set up to assist in reporting violations, and those found in violation of the new rules will be banned from further participation as an Airbnb host.

Airbnb has come out in support of the proposal, which would help legalize and legitimize the business in the largest metropolitan city in the U.S. while limiting hosts’ ability to operate makeshift hotels. 

“The law puts New York in the 21st century,” Josh Meltzer, New York public-policy director for Airbnb, said in a statement. “This is the first serious, comprehensive approach to updating these laws.”

It makes sense for New York lawmakers to want to find a way to work Airbnb into the city’s ecosystem without banning it for good. Airbnb has been blamed for exacerbating the city’s affordable housing shortage, as well as for driving up rents. A report last May blamed Airbnb for a loss in New York’s total hotel taxes, a result of many hosts failing to pay these taxes while undercutting hotel supply. By adding hosts to a registry, avoiding taxes becomes much more difficult.

However, not all are in favor of Lentol’s proposal. Democratic Manhattan Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal argues that Airbnb still presents a laundry list of safety and security risks to both travelers to New York and locals who share a neighborhood with rentals.

“The community fought back and won, and now Airbnb wants to play according to its own rules,” Rosenthal said in a statement. She also said Lentol’s legislation “is a preposterous attempt by Airbnb to once again game the system that protects affordable housing. I’m only surprised it took them this long.”

Rosenthal has a point. Adding Airbnb hosts to a registry and limiting them to one property at a time sounds good, but it won’t get them to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act or any other codes that traditional hospitality companies already contend with, and the greater hotel industry won’t be finished crying foul until everyone is playing on an even field.

Even so, it’s a start, but the bill still has a long way to go before it clears the state's Senate.