Vacation Rentals

With Airbnb gray-zoned, is apartment swapping still legal in NYC?

By Marjorie Cohen  |
November 20, 2013 - 9:13AM

For a couple of years now, New York City residents who rent out their apartments for less than 30 days have been violating a 2011 amendement to the city's multiple dwelling law.  Recently, an ongoing dust-up between short-term apartment rental exchange Airbnb and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman--in which New York is demanding that Airbnb turn over data on their 225,000 users--has cast a further chill over the turn-your-apartment-into-a-cash-machine trend.

So what about apartment swapping? Is it legal to swap apartments if no money changes hands?  And if so, how does your landlord or board feel about it?

Fortunately for home-swappers, the city's multiple dwelling law "has an exception that clearly covers home exchanges," says real estate attorney Steven Wagner of Wagner Berkow.  

Specifically, the law permits 'incidental and occasional occupancy of such dwelling unit for fewer than thirty consecutive days by other natural persons when the permanent occupants are temporarily absent for personal reasons such as vacation or medical treatment, provided that there is no monetary compensation paid to the permanent occupants for such occupancy [emphasis added].'

Of course, just because it's legal doesn't mean your co-op, condo board or landlord is okay with it.

“As a general rule, neither condo nor co-op boards like them, “ says real estate attorney Dean Roberts of Norris McLaughlin & Marcus.  “Most boards do not allow it as it has the same problems as the Airbnb issue, i.e. strangers coming into the building without board review or approval."

Practically speaking, condos have far less power to regulate apartment swaps co-ops, while among the smaller co-ops Roberts represents, "there appears to be more understanding, but still  a reluctance, to allow unregulated occupancy of the apartment.”

If you're discovered, you could get fined by your board. That said, notes Roberts, "boards are most unhappy when they haven't been told. Disclosure is the best policy."

If you are in a rental apartment, whether or not you can exchange will be up to the landlord.

“It depends on what the lease says, but it is technically a sublet and will probably require approval from the landlord,” says Wagner. If you do it once or only once in a while over a long period of time, it is not likely to result in repercussions, he says, but “serious and repeated violations could and likely would result in eviction proceedings or Supreme Court proceedings where you may be prohibited from further violations and contempt proceedings if the violation continues. These are serious consequences.”

One Upper West side co-op owner told us that when she arranges a swap she tries to “stay under the radar” and hopes the staff of the building doesn’t notice. She advises being on “really good terms with the doorman because that’s who’s most likely  to tell on you.” 

Another Upper West Side condo owner, who says she loves swapping because “it's more comfortable than a hotel, I can live like a native and save money," notifies her condo board when exchange guests are coming. “We’re allowed to have guests/friends stay in our apartment--we're just not allowed to have short-term renters."

For what it's worth, apartment swap facilitators say that an inherent sense of reciprocity diminishes many of the bad-behavior risks involved in a cash-based transaction.

"The difference is that with home swapping, you are going to someone’s home and they are going to yours," says Debbie Woskow, founder and owner of Love Home Swap, a three-year-old U.K.-based international home swapping site with 3,000 New York City apartments listed. "There is a sense of reciprocity or ‘do as you would be done by’ that keeps people honest and on their best behavior." 

Note: Should something go awry anyhow while you're away--say, your swappee lets the bathtub overflow into your neighbors' place--your co-op, condo or renter's insurance will cover you if the exchange is for a short period of time, like a few weeks, says apartment insurance broker Jeffrey Schneider of Gotham Brokerage.  However, he says, "a year exchange would be too long and your coverage would have to be voided and rewritten. You should check with your broker first about the specifics of your policy.”

To explore the possibility of arranging a swap of your own, start with these popular exchange sites:  This London-based newcomer prides itself on bringing the industry up to date. With 50,000 possible exchanges on the site, they’ve just introduced a points plan that lets members lend out their home  in exchange for points which they can later use to stay in homes in other cities/countries. Most New Yorkers want exchanges in London and Paris, says Woskow, the founder, who notes that other items that often get swapped along with the apartment include pets, cars, ski equipment, cribs, and strollers. This Barcelona-based start-up lists 30,000 homes in 159 countries. Searches can be done by map, destination, cities and by reverse search--e.g., your offer will go out only to people who are interested in NYC. This is the one featured in the 2006 Cameron Diaz/ Kate Winslet film "The Holiday" about their swap of an apartment in LA (Diaz) and a country cottage in England (Winslet). (Sorry, can’t promise a romance with Jude Law at the end of the exchange.) They claim 40,000 members, 47,000 homes in 147 countries. One of the two home exchange facilitators that claim to be the “original,” the service was started 60 years ago by a group of teachers looking for a way to cut costs on their summer vacation travels. The site is powered by hydro-power. “We keep a low profile.” This is the other one that says it’s the original. It started 50 years ago as Vacation Exchange Club with typewriters and black and white photo books of properties. Their guarantee: If you don’t find the exchange you want in the first year, you get a second year free. Based in the U.K., this site is 25 years old. Exchange offers registered with Homebase go out to all members of home exchange agencies that belong to the First Home Exchange Alliance, expanding the pool of possibilities. New York City is on the top of the list of most wanted cities for swappers on this site. (Hawaii comes in second.) The site promises “free membership for the forseeable future."


WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND:  Exchange your airshaft view for a view of Mount Victoria from the lounge of this two-story home in New Zealand. It's available on Love Home Swap.


TORONTO, CANADA:  You could get this three-bedroom, 1.5-bath house in Toronto's Little Italy for a lot less than your average grocery bill at Eataly. Available on HomeSwap.


SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA: West Coast more your speed? Swap your NYC digs for this two-bedroom, two-bath downtown San Diego condo on Intervac Home Exchange.


MONTREAL, CANADA: We think any New York City kid would be happy to stay in this room. The three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Montreal is available via Knok.


PARK SLOPE, BROOKLYN: This two-bedroom, two-bath Brooklyn loft is available on Love Home Swap.


CARROLL GARDENS, BROOKLYN: This three-bedroom townhouse is available for exchange on Love Home Swap. 


DOWNTOWN MANHATTAN: This three-bedroom downtown Manhattan loft is nearly 3,000 square feet and is available for swapping on Love Home Swap.


LONDON: Swap your NYC abode for this five-bedroom Victorian house listed on U.K. home-exchange site Love Home Swap. Talk about British charm.


PARIS, FRANCE: On, you can arrange a swap for this "cozy" Parisian loft ocated minutes from Montmarte.

Related posts:

I made $14K on Airbnb at $99/night

8 tips for NYC Airbnb hosts from a pair of Airbnb junkies

Yes, it's still illegal to rent out your NYC apartment for less than a month

Rent your apt as a hotel and your broker could be out of a job 

Rent Coach: Being an Airbnb landlord isn't for everyone

Everything you need to know about renter's insurance

Craigslist scam buster: Check before handing over the cash






Marjorie Cohen

Contributing writer

Marjorie Cohen is a New York City-based freelance journalist, editor and author of over seven non-fiction books. Her real estate reporting has appeared in amNewYork, Investopedia, and The West Side Rag. Since moving to New York five decades ago for graduate school at the Teachers College of Columbia University, Marjorie has lived on the Upper West Side, with a brief detour to West 15th Street when she got six months free rent in a new building.

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