Roommates + Landlords

How to rent out your NYC apartment on Airbnb: Advice from experienced hosts

By Emily Myers | June 14, 2022 - 1:30PM

In most cases, it’s illegal to rent out your NYC apartment for less than 30 days unless you’re present during the stay.

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If you're thinking of putting your place on a short-term rental site to earn some extra cash you're in good company: There were more Airbnbs available in May than there were traditional rentals, according to an analysis by Curbed. Granted, the number of apartments available for traditional leases of 12 months or more is at record lows but it's also an indication that New Yorkers are trying to maximize their real estate dollars to offset inflation. 

New York City has a complicated relationship with short-term rental platforms like Airbnb. Critics argue home-sharing and short-term rentals are bad for renters because they drive up rents in the city and take apartments out of circulation. On the other hand, the city's high costs make earning some extra money from short-term rentals all the more compelling.

If you want to rent out your place short term in NYC, you need to be familiar with the rules—breaking them can result in steep fines. In most cases, it’s illegal to rent out your apartment for less than 30 days unless you’re present during the stay. Read on for some first-hand advice from experienced hosts. 

Understand NYC's rules on short-term rentals

In order to stay on the right side of the law, you need either to be present in the building for the duration of the short-term rental arrangement or you need to rent a place out for more than 30 days. Thatcher Ulrich is an Airbnb superhost who rents out a garden apartment in a Brooklyn townhouse. He says he only offers stays over 30 days in order to comply with these rules.

"It means some vacancies and you have to manage the calendar a bit," he says.

The rules apply to houses as well as apartments. A court ruling means owners of one- or two-family houses are restricted from doing short-term rentals if they are not staying in the building at the same time. One host, who wants anonymity, says he rents out a downstairs apartment in his two-family Brooklyn townhouse and typically rents it out for four- or five-day stays while he remains in his unit upstairs. 

If you own a single-family home, your ability to rent it out may also be restricted by zoning rules. It's worth looking up your certificate of occupancy and making sure you can legally rent it out as it is configured. 

Your ability to be a host also depends on what type of apartment building you are in. In rent-stabilized buildings, there are restrictions on what residents can legally charge via sites like Airbnb. Co-ops typically don’t allow short-term leases and although condos can’t prohibit leasing, the bylaws will require minimum- and maximum-lease terms and might also have rules against vacation rentals.  

Remove clutter and personal items

If you're a minimalist, it's going to be easier for you than most in setting up your place to rent out.

Ulrich says the most onerous part of the process was—and perhaps still is—keeping the place free of your personal items. "Tidier people might not have the same degree of struggle," he says but for him, cutting down on clutter and moving excess furniture into storage was the most difficult part. 

"Then there's a seemingly endless list of little things like making sure the locks are comprehensible, writing a decent guide to the things that need explaining, making sure you have the right linens and cleaning supplies," he says. 

A combination lockbox is a good idea for keys. This is what Ulrich uses and says there's the occasional panic if someone loses keys or can't figure it out, but those situations are "fortunately rare."

Create an online profile for your short-term rental

Once the place is physically ready, you need to set up the digital profile for the apartment. Ulrich started with photos he took with a wide angle lens and says they were adequate, but professional photos are far better. The pros use composite photo techniques that show the space off in a way that a single photo can't. 

Part of the digital setup is to make some decisions on pricing, availability, and cancellation policies. Ulrich says what works for him is to set the pricing a little higher but be flexible on cancellations and refunds, to make sure guests leave happy.

Get comfortable with strangers in your place

Renting a place out makes you a landlord—even if it's short-term—and with that comes responsibility. It can be a leap of faith to trust a stranger with your home and your furniture so that's something you need to be comfortable with, or at least learn to get comfortable with. "This was fairly nerve-wracking at first," Ulrich says. 

Keep your short-term rental as clean as a hotel

Finding a reliable cleaner is really going to help with the rental process and the guest turnover. However, as one host points out, the level of cleanliness you accept in your own home might not be the same as you'd expect in a rental you're paying for. The space you rent out needs to be as clean as a decent hotel, he says. 

That means you need to regularly go through the apartment and check cabinets and drawers to make sure they are clean. Guests don't want to find coffee grounds on the shelves or crumbs in the silverware drawer. As one host says, "Little things accumulate over time and unless you are vigilant, your place can get on the grody side." 

A tip is to have close friends and family stay in the place once in a while: They may be able to spot issues that might not otherwise be obvious. 

Budget for furniture replacements

Renting out your place does require a level of investment over time. If you're renting out to several guests a month, your linens are going to be washed more than they might in your own household and may need to be replaced more frequently.

And it's not just the sheets—upholstered furniture can get worn out, china and glassware can break. When you're thinking about doing an Airbnb, it's a good idea to incorporate these expenses into your budget. Anticipating these extra costs makes you more prepared as a host. Better to fully equip the place before you get complaints about shabby furniture, worn out linens, or missing utensils. 

Deal with difficult guests

You've heard the horror stories of Airbnb gone wrong: Bedbugs, power outages, and wild parties, to name just a few nightmares. 

You need to prepare for the fact that not every guest is going to be easy. "Most people are very nice and reasonable, a few people are more difficult to deal with or run into issues with your place that make them seem that way," Ulrich says.
 
His advice is to take issues as they come and deal with them as best you can, then try to make adjustments for the future.
 
Another host had similar experiences, and says he had a handful of guests over the past five years that he felt didn't respect the place or left it messy. He says, the right approach is to recognize that most people do the right thing and if you occasionally have a bad actor, that shouldn't get you off your game.
 
As a host, Ulrich says what he's learned is that when there's a significant problem that can't be resolved right away, most people are quite happy to get some money returned. "You have to guess the amount, or discuss it with the guest to make sure they're satisfied," he says.

Avoid scams from guests 

A couple of hosts mentioned being on guard for scams from guests. For example, a bad check for a too-large amount from someone who then asks for a refund. If you get a request that doesn't feel right, like a last minute query from someone who hasn't posted any guest reviews—you don't have to take it. Ulrich says he's recently had people reach out and then try to shift the discussion off the platform—which is a very bad sign. 
 
"Anytime someone is trying to skirt the normal protocol, that’s a red flag,” says one host, who wanted anonymity. You need to be as vigilant with Airbnb bookings as you would be with any online transaction. 

 

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