Commentary

New Ruling On NYC Rentals Marks Partial Victory For Airbnb

In a partial victory for Airbnb, a New York City agency has vacated a $2,400 fineimposed on East Village resident Nigel Warren, who rented his room in a condo to a tourist. But the ruling itself is extremely narrow, and won't necessarily help Airbnb in other cases.

The case dates to last September, when Warren rented a room in his condo for several days to a woman visiting from Russia. The city said the rental was illegal, thanks to a 2010 New York law providing that landlords can't rent apartments for less than 30 days. But that measure -- aimed at prohibiting landlords from getting around rent control laws by marketing vacant units as hotel rooms -- makes exceptions for guests, boarders, roomers and lodgers.

When the case came before administrative judge Clive Morrick, Warren argued that the tourist was a guest, and therefore fell within the exception. To support his point, he testified that his roommate rcontinued to live in the apartment while the tourist was there.

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That's important because the law appears to provide that people who maintain a “common household” with tenants are guests -- even if they pay rent. In this case, Warren said that his roommate and the tourist had a common household for several days.

But Morrick rejected that argument, ruling in May that the tourist was just “a stranger” who “paid to occupy the apartment.” Morrick then fined Warren $2,400.

The Environmental Control Board reversed Morrick's ruling last week. But the move, while clearly good news for Warren, won't necessarily help other Airbnb users in New York. That's because the Environmental Control Board made clear that it only ruled in Warren's favor because his roommate remained in the apartment.

In other words, the opinion won't apply in the numerous instances where New York apartment owners who use Airbnb don't have roommates.

Airbnb's David Hantman, who authors the company's public policy blog, calls the decision “a victory for the sharing community,” but adds that “there is more work to do.”

“This episode highlights how complicated the New York law is, and it took far too long for Nigel to be vindicated,” he writes. “That is why we are continuing our work to clarify the law and ensure New Yorkers can share their homes and their city with travelers from around the world.”

But the unique facts of the Warren case have left New York users wondering whether they're protected. One posed the following question to Hantman in response to his post about the latest decision: “What does that mean for the rest of the New York hosts who rent their space when they have to be away for work? Are we going to be taken to court and fined? Should we all pull our listings till we know?”

For now, the answer appears to be that many New Yorkers who rent apartments to tourists for less than 30 days still run the risk of legal action.

1 comment about " New Ruling On NYC Rentals Marks Partial Victory For Airbnb".
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  1. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, October 3, 2013 at 5:14 a.m.

    Interesting how a law to increase the supply of cheap accommodation, by stopping landlords from getting around rent control, seems to have been used in this case to try and reduce the supply of cheap accommodation.

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