ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo must soon decide whether to authorize hefty fines for many people who offer to rent out their New York City apartments on Airbnb.
Meanwhile, the online booking service said it’s policing its website to remove commercial operators in the city, addressing a chief complaint of critics who say it promotes illegal hotels and effectively takes scarce apartments out of circulation.
Airbnb, with 45,000 city listings and another 13,000 across the state, counters that it typically enables New Yorkers to make about $5,000 a year to help pay their own rising rents, while offering interesting and sometimes more affordable alternatives to the New York City’s nearly 60 million annual visitors.
“Hosts set these prices, but I think most people find that it’s a better deal than staying at a hotel,” said Josh Meltzer, head of public policy for Airbnb, which recorded 1.3 million city guests over the past year.
Peter Ward, president of the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, said Airbnb has been breaking laws with impunity for years, depleting affordable housing stock and threatening middle-class union hotel jobs “that are the backbone of New York’s tourism economy.”
New York City’s 696 hotels employed 50,000 people last year — about 30,000 of them were union members — according to state, union and municipal authorities. Average occupancy in Manhattan was 88.4 percent with average daily rooms costing $290.
It’s already illegal to rent most city apartments for less than 30 days when the owner or tenant is not there, a law that’s proved hard to enforce.
The new measure being reviewed by Cuomo, an avowed supporter of organized labor, would establish graduated fines from $1,000 to $7,500 for advertising online or elsewhere for such illegal short-term rentals. They would apply to “any person” violating its provisions, not just a building owner or landlord. Airbnb critics say that its purge in November 2015 of more than 1,000 commercial listings was followed with about 15 percent back on the website a year later.
Advocates for the tougher law say only 465 fines were issued by the city from January 2014 through May 2016, with half of repeat offenders paying reduced fines or nothing.
Airbnb says 2,570 listings in New York City have been purged since November, with 337 removed from its website in July. They are flagged for removal based, in part, on the number of listings controlled by a single host.
Instead of the new law, Airbnb’s Meltzer says the company is willing to sit down and think through a regulatory solution to protect responsible people who want to rent their homes when they’re away.
Airbnb’s Aug. 1 data show that about 21,000 listings in the city are for a private room or shared space, which would remain clearly legal. Another 24,000 are for the entire home. Those include 3,522 managed by hosts with more than one listing. The company said some offer longer-term housing, while others manage someone else’s primary residence on their behalf or rent in-law suites that are actually part of a primary residence.