Roommates + Landlords

Own a townhouse? You still might get in trouble for renting it on Airbnb

By Virginia K. Smith  | September 14, 2016 - 8:59AM

While one bold New Yorker recently went so far as to offer up a taxi on Airbnb, plenty of New Yorkers are more reasonably renting out their own private townhouses, all under the assumption that since it's entirely their property, they're on the right side of the law. But those homeowners may in for a nasty surprise: WNYC's Brian Lehrer reports that the city has been using "decades-old codes" to justify fines on owners of one- or two-family homes who've been renting them out on short-term rental sites.

In spite of assurances over the years that short-term rentals in private houses don't constitute the same violatation of the Multiple Dwelling Law as they do in apartment buildings, the city has been slapping townhouse owners with fines, issuing 90 such violations since 2014. For instance, WNYC cites the case of Geoffrey Freeman, who allowed his tenants to Airbnb out his Clinton Hill townhouse after researching the law and concluding they were in the clear. Since then, Freeman has been cited for two violations and fined thousands of dollars.

The legal justification? "The city has made it very clear that if you are using the building contrary to your certificate of occupancy, you're subject to receiving a violation," Christian Klossner, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement, told WNYC. Klossner also shared cases of houses that have been unsafely divided up into numerous rooms to maximize their short-term rental value, saying that they "present significant safety risk to both the gusts and the neighbors. And we take appropriate action."

While Freeman is currently fighting his violations, WNYC notes that anecdotally, many judges have upheld the city's logic, meaning that if you've been ushering short-term vacation guests in and out of your New York City house, you may soon need to find a new revenue source.


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