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‘Middle-Class’ Airbnb Hosts Who Own Brownstones Still Pissed About New Rules

Checking in with regular New Yorkers, two months after short-term rental registrations opened.

Blue sky above a Brooklyn apartment building.
(Hell Gate)

It's hard making ends meet as a middle class New Yorker. Sometimes you have to pick up a second job to pay the bills, and sometimes you have to rent the first floor of your $5 million Midtown brownstone out to a bunch of Danish teens. 

At least, that's reportedly the plight of a homeowner named Lisa Grossman, interviewed by the Guardian as a representative of pro-short term rental lobbying group Restore Homeowner Autonomy and Rights. "We’re gritty New Yorkers, and we’re middle-class," she said in an interview about how Local Law 18, which requires short-term rental hosts to register with the City to ensure they're acting legally, has impacted people like her. That is to say, people who own multifamily homes in some of the most desirable real estate in New York City. (The Guardian noted that the first floor of Grossman's aforementioned $5 million brownstone was still listed for short-term rental on Vrbo until the reporter reached out to her to notify her of what she called a "glitch.")

The law, which Airbnb called a "de facto ban" when it sued the City earlier this year, strengthened existing regulations that mandate a minimum 30-day stay for all apartment-wide or house-wide rentals. But partial-apartment rentals that last less than 30 days are still legal, with the caveats of a two-guest maximum, and that the host in question "must be present during your guests' stay." According to video testimonials posted on RHOAR's website, those requirements are a bridge too far for salt of the earth New Yorkers like a British actress with her own Wikipedia page and a man who designs modular childrens furniture that retails for thousands of dollars per piece. They may also be too far for our mayor, who Grossman said she met with to explain to him her Airbnb woes: "The general gist of the meeting was he supports us, but he can’t make these changes on his own…Basically, he was like, 'You gotta go to the city council.'"

To be fair, not everyone who owns a unit they want to use as a short-term rental is going down kicking and screaming. Since September, the City's Office of Special Enforcement has received almost 4,900 short-term rental registration applications, processed around 1,900, and given 573 of those applicants the green light. (It also, according to a City spokesperson, has yet to issue any fines for non-compliance.) According to data the Guardian obtained from the housing activists with Inside Airbnb, the number of short-term rental listings on the platform "plunged 85 percent" over the three-month period before and after Local Law 18 went into effect, from 21,785 short-term rentals in August to 3,227 in October. 

Back in January, Hell Gate reported that one opponent of Local Law 18 said during a Office of Special Enforcement hearing that "the assumption that [Airbnb hosts] will go back into the full-time rental market is erroneous" because "it's dangerous to sign a full-time lease," while other property owners cited "meth head" tenants, "professional" rent dodgers, and the shitty condition of their own apartments as barriers to entry into the long-term rental market. But the bet from housing activists and City politicians who supported the new law is that they'll fold and put some of the units they've been using as gig economy cash cows back into the extremely dire rental market. Or, I don't know, they could just keep bragging about their Superhost status on Facebook Marketplace.

Some links to browse that don't violate City law:

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