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Airbnb and San Francisco make nice—but what's next for New York?

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While many vacationers may love Airbnb, some officials in cities around the world feel differently about the short-term rental service.

Here in New York City, for example, critics have two main concerns: First, they think the service unfairly competes with the city's hotel business, and second, they think it hogs too many apartments in a city where a lack of affordable housing is directly correlated with low inventory.

Thanks to New York's Multiple Dwelling Law, it's illegal to Airbnb your home for less than 30 days (and that includes condos, co-ops, and rentals—regardless of their personal policies). Those who flout the rules now can be hit with fines as high as $7,500. The announcement of those fines last year seemed to be the latest development in a contentious relationship between New York elected officials and Airbnb.

But earlier this week, Democratic assemblyman Joe Lentol of Brooklyn introduced Assembly Bill 7520, which would amend the Multiple Dwelling Law and allow all New Yorkers to "responsibly share the homes in which they live with visitors from around the world," according to Airbnb.

“Homesharing is here to stay,” Lentol said in a statement. “We need to provide strong laws so that it can be done in a safe and responsible way. Most people participate in this program because they need help to pay bills—to help them maintain their residence in expensive NYC. The interesting aspect about home sharing is that it also offers a way to get tourists spending their money in areas outside midtown Manhattan." 

“While New York has tried to position itself as a leader in the Internet economy, outdated regulations enacted to help entrenched special interests are standing in the way," Josh Meltzer, head of New York Public Policy at Airbnb, said in a statement, "we are grateful for Assemblyman Lentol’s leadership and look forward to continuing conversations with the rest of the Legislature so that they also recognize home sharing as a tremendous economic driver across the state.”

In San Francisco, Airbnb and its hometown city seem, for the most part, to have worked out their woes. The two sides settled a year-long lawsuit over a local ordinance that forbade Airbnb from taking bookings from hosts who handn't properly registered their homes with the city.

Under the settlement, announced earlier this week, anyone in San Francisco who wants to rent out their room or house on Airbnb must supply their name, address, and zip code to be registered with the city. Only after registering can hosts list their homes for rent. And as part of the deal, the city is making it possible to obtain registrations electronically. Registering helps assure that all the listings are legal; the city limits each host to one rental unit and caps the number of nights you can rent it out per year at 90.

"We, as a platform, do fundamentally believe that platforms need to take responsibility," Chris Lehane, Airbnb's head of global policy and communications, said on a call with reporters Monday. The biggest problem, he added, was that the registration process had previously been onerous for would-be hosts, but as part of the settlement, everything should be much more streamlined.

The new San Francisco registration system is expected to roll out in early 2018. (Similar registration systems are underway in Denver, New Orleans and Chicago.)

Proponents of Airbnb, like Lentol in New York (and the company itself), have long said that the platform is a way of helping cash-strapped residents in expensive cities like New York make ends meet. And San Francisco mayor Ed Lee seems to subscribe to that theory somewhat. The settlement, he said in a statement, "protects our rental housing stock while allowing residents who follow the rules to gain income to help make ends meet."

 

 

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