Disrupting the disruptor? New York City’s enforcement against illegal short-term rentals took its first major step last week on Sept. 5 by holding online booking sites like Airbnb responsible if listings were not registered with the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement (OSE). Such platforms allow tourists to book homes and apartments from the city’s existing housing stock for stays similar to traditional hotels rather than a sublet or contractual lease.
“Registration creates a clear path for hosts who follow the City’s long standing laws and protects travelers from illegal and unsafe accommodations, while significantly limiting the proliferation of illegal short-term rentals,” said OSE executive director Christian Klossner over email.
The actions stem from Local Law 18, adopted in 2022, which mandates all short-term rental hosts to register their properties with the city. Approved listings must comply with rules bidding hosts to remain onsite during bookings, with no more than two guests staying during the reservation.
As of this past Monday, Sept. 11, more than 4,000 applications have been filed for legal short-term rental registration according to the Mayor’s Office. Of the 1,000 or so reviewed, 329 were approved, 113 were denied, and 589 were returned to applicants for additional information or error correction.
All unregistered short-term rentals reserved for after Dec. 2 will be canceled and refunded, according to Airbnb. Any bookings prior will not be canceled and the company says it will eat the fee costs after check-in to comply with the new regulations.
While the Airbnb spokesperson says the company currently doesn’t have an exact tally on how many unregistered rentals have been removed since Sept. 5, data-based advocate Murray Cox—who founded short-term rental watchdog Inside Airbnb—says he’s seen around 15,000 local listings removed from the site since the city’s platform crackdown last week. That’s over 70% of existing short-term rentals in the city, he says.
Back in 2017, Cox published a report finding a majority of Airbnb hosts offering units in Black neighborhoods were white by mapping and racially-coding the faces of listing accounts to their ascribed rentals. The study was commended by multiple elected officials including Helen Rosenthal, a city council co-sponsor of the bill that later became Local Law 18, but was criticized by Airbnb and short-term rental proponents for lacking direct racial data of hosts.
“I wouldn’t recommend this for most subjects, but that was really the only way I could do it—I couldn’t send surveys out to Airbnb hosts or trust what Airbnb was saying,” said Cox. “I found that in the majority Black neighborhoods, there was a 500% disparity between the Black demographic of the neighborhood and the inclusion of Black hosts in the Airbnb community…Airbnb was a gentrification tool in Black and Black and brown neighborhoods.”
He points to recent Gothamist reporting, which analyzed recent listings in a Bed-Stuy block finding that around 30% of properties were purchased by LLCs, many within the past 10 years.
Mobilization for Justice housing lawyer Nikita Salehi-Azhan says Local Law 18—like anything else “that throws a wet blanket on the property market”—is a positive step for New York City tenants but further needs to be done to solve the housing crisis, especially for those in Black and brown neighborhoods. She adds that through her work, she regularly sees Black and brown families moving out of the city due to the cost of rent and living—she believes Local Law 18 addresses and prevents such displacement.
“[While] the Black and brown landlord can’t be an Airbnb host with these new qualifications, they can still participate in a sublease agreement, given their lease allows them to,” added Salehi-Azhan. “They can still rent out a room in another fashion, it just might not be able to be [though] Airbnb. So there are other alternatives if somebody is looking for extra cash or they have an extra room in the apartment, but I don’t know that it would hurt a Black or brown landlord more than it would hurt a Black or brown family looking to be tenants.”
Earlier this summer, Airbnb and a trio of short-term rental hosts filed lawsuits against the city over Local Law 18 that were dismissed last month. In an email sent out to city hosts announcing the initial litigation, the company called the regulations a “de facto ban on short term rentals” and predicted the “drastic decrease” of New York City listings. It also mentioned host plaintiffs’ concerns of sharing private details of their properties to the OSE and potential complexities navigating the registration process—as aforementioned, there are more reviewed applications returned for further information than those approved or denied, combined.
Applications doubled between the judge tossing Airbnb’s lawsuit and last week’s enforcement start, according to the OSE website.
Since Local Law 18 enforcement began, Inside Airbnb estimates around 6,800 short-term rentals remain. The organization’s data map points to under 240 listings in Harlem at press time, a departure from 949 last month. For comparison, around 680 short-term rentals are currently tallied in Midtown Manhattan. But both still exceed Staten Island’s borough-wide count of roughly 180 listings.
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.
Author’s Note: An Airbnb representative responded after press time addressing gentrification concerns by pointing to surveyed hosts saying rentals frequently allowed them to afford in their homes and elude foreclosure/eviction. The spokesperson also directed to a study arguing that the presumption that short-term rental hosts would turn to long-term rentals due to Local Law 18 can be specious.