NYC law to shine light on Airbnb hosts

New York City lawmakers are shining a light on Airbnb hosts operating within city limits. Photo credit: Getty Images/spyarm

New York City continues to take measures to control Airbnb, with a new law forcing the home-rental company to share the names and addresses of the estimated 50,000 hosts operating within the city.

On Wednesday, the NYC City Council voted 45-0 for the legislation, which is part of New York's ongoing effort to curb short-term rentals. The law is expected to be signed by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has publicly come out in favor of the move because affordable housing is one of the primary goals of his term.

Currently, renting out a home for less than 30 days at a time is illegal in the city, but despite this New York remains Airbnb's largest domestic market, according to AirDNA, a data analytics entity formed to track and decipher data revolving around Airbnb's activity. This new law will make it easier for New York to enforce existing laws in the city, but Chris Lehane, head of global policy at Airbnb, said the law will subject law-abiding hosts to privacy violations.

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"This is a bill that really is designed to benefit the hotel industry," Lehane said in a statement. In another statement, Lehane also said that New York is just one of Airbnb's key markets, and most of the company's revenue is "is really coming from a much, much larger group of cities. This is not going to have an impact on us from a broader perspective."

New York lawmakers disagree. Carlina Rivera, the councilwoman responsible for introducing the bill, said the law is "about preserving as much affordable housing and housing stock as possible," and cited several instances where tenants claimed to be evicted by landlords due to rising rates. She blamed these rising rates on home-sharing companies like Airbnb.

While the new law will make tracking down existing hosts easier, the penalties on the books already are harsh. Fines of up to $1,500 can be issued to companies for each listing they fail to disclose, significantly less than the $25,000 that was originally proposed. Even so, the law could remove many of the 50,000 existing Airbnb units from the home-sharing market. After San Francisco passed a similar measure, listings in the city fell nearly 50 percent, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Airbnb and New York have been continually at odds over the home-sharing industry and its legitimacy, particularly in recent months. In May, a report from the New York City Comptroller's office accused Airbnb of cannibalizing the city's housing supply, raising rents and increasing danger for existing tenants. Airbnb hit back against the report, and it was joined by AirDNA. This was doubly damning because the Comptroller's office had based nearly its entire report around data pulled from AirDNA.

The home-sharing company has consistently stated that attempts to curb its activity will hurt citizens of New York who rely on renting their homes to pay rent. In June, Airbnb also published a list of New York City council members and how much money hotel companies had contributed to their campaigns.

“After taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the hotel industry, we’re not surprised the City Council refused to meet with their own constituents who rely on home-sharing to pay the bills and then voted to protect the profits of big hotels,” Liz DeBold Fusco, a spokeswoman for Airbnb, said in a statement.

However, a report from the School of Urban Planning at McGill University, which was commissioned by the hotel workers' union, reported that nearly half of New York City's home-sharing revenue came from just 10 percent of hosts in the city.

“The vacancy rate in New York City is very low,” Corey Johnson, New York City council speaker, said before the vote. “We’re in an affordable housing crisis. We’re in a homelessness crisis. And Airbnb will not give us this data.”

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