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Ask Sam: What can I do if my landlord is renting stabilized apartments on Airbnb?

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Question:

My neighbor recently moved out of their rent-stabilized apartment (one of the few left in our building), and instead of finding a new tenant, the landlord has been renting it out on Airbnb. Is it legal for them to do this? What can we do?

Answer:

You're correct to suspect that your landlord's actions are completely illegal, and that you're well within your rights to report them to the city, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.

Though it would be legal (if strange) for your landlord to simply let your former neighbor's rent-stabilized apartment sit empty, to use it for short-term rentals "is clearly illegal," Himmelstein says.

Short-term rentals of less than 30 days have long been illegal in New York City under the Multiple Dwelling Law, and thanks to a recently passed state law, to even list a short-term rental of this kind puts your landlord at risk of a heavy fine.

Your landlord is also vulnerable to overcharge claims, says Himmelstein, noting, "I'm sure they're charging daily rates that far exceed the legal monthly rent."

Thankfully, the solution on your end is simple. "Call 311, and tell them that you want to file a complaint with the Department of Buildings about Airbnb usage in your building," says Himmelstein. "They're anonymous, so your landlord won't know who filed the complaint, and the city will send an inspector to try to determine what's going on."

While it can be difficult for inspectors to determine the nature of the violation, Himmelstein notes that the city has been taking Airbnb violations very seriously in recent months, so it's likely that once the DoB gets involved, your landlord will have to put a stop to their short-term rental scheme.

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Sam Himmelstein, Esq., represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan.  To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.