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How real are these Airbnb "raids," anyway?

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Lest you think New York State's war against Airbnb and short-term rentals is all talk, according to the New York Post, there are now full-on "raids" happening in NYC's illegal hotels. “They put their foot in the door and say, ‘Are you not granting entry to a police officer?’” one resident who's been charged thousands of dollars in fines said of the city task force that investigates quality-of-life issues like Airbnb. “They intimidate people into giving answers they want to hear. They were demanding to get into the apartment.” As such, an attorney for the resident is now trying to get the case dismissed on the grounds of illegal search and seizure.

"It sounds like the Elliot Ness of real estate," jokes Dean Roberts, a real estate attorney at Norris McLaughlin & Marcus. Still, Roberts points out, this crackdown appears to be focused on flagrantly illegal setups—one of the cases cited in the Post story involves an Airbnb host who, in co-operation with the landlord, had renovated two other apartments within his building with the intention of using them as short-term rentals (and a source of income).

"In this case, there's a policy reason for going after the host," he explains. "It's a business transaction taking a registered apartment offline, and away from people who are entitled to housing. The kind of people who are getting hunted down like this are the ones who genuinely run a full-time operation, not someone who's renting out their place because they went to visit their mom for a week."

Besides the ever-present need for a search warrant, Roberts points out that if cops show up and try to give the boot to out-of-towners who've unwittingly landed in an illegal hotel, "there's no jurisidiction to do that unless the Airbnb landlord has made a complaint, because [the guests] are invitees." In other words, you can get in trouble, but your Airbnb guests shouldn't suffer for it. 

While many of the legalities of short-term rentals are still up in the air—if they'll be banned altogether, and how they might be taxed, for instance—we can now add to the pile the question of how, exactly, the city can come after you if you're running your apartment as an illegal hotel. "That’s sort of what this case is going to decide," says Roberts. "What due process is this going to require?"

For now, worth keeping in mind that just because you're in cahoots with the landlord over a mini-empire of short-term rentals doesn't mean that you won't get busted. And, since the city only knows about illegal Airbnbs via 311 complaints, be sure you clear your plans with the neighbors beforehand—you never know when the disgruntled guy next door could turn into a whistleblower.

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