By Tiffany Hsu
Los Angeles Times
4:04 PM EDT, May 21, 2013
A judge has ruled that Airbnb, the popular online service that allows homeowners and apartment dwellers to offer their residences as temporary rentals, is illegal in New York City.
The decision from the city’s Environmental Control Board found that New Yorkers offering their dwellings on the website violate a state regulation designed to dissuade landlords from operating their buildings as illegal hotels.
The law, approved in 2010 and enacted in 2011, prohibits apartment occupants from renting out their spaces for less than 29 days. The decree is enforced only when authorities are brought to the property on a complaint.
San Francisco-based Airbnb has fought to amend the law, arguing that it’s too broad. The company said the vast majority of its users listing properties are submitting their primary homes.
The ECB ruling stems from a case against Nigel Warren, an Airbnb “host” who rented out his East Village apartment for several nights at a rate of $115 a night. His tenant, a Russian woman, was discovered by an inspector who happened to be in the building on another call.
Warren’s landlord now faces $2,400 in fines. Airbnb, which was not a party to the case but filed a motion to intervene explaining its interpretation of the situation, argues that Warren’s tenant was staying at his apartment while his roommate was present.
The law features an exemption for hosts sharing their space with tenants, according to the company.
In a statement issued to The Times, the company said:
This decision runs contrary to the stated intention and the plain text of New York law, so obviously we are disappointed and we are considering all appeal options as we move forward. Put simply, this decision is wrong on the law, and bad for New York. The laws in New York and around the world are confusing and often contradictory, but we intervened in this case because this was the one area of the law that seemed most clear. This decision demonstrates how difficult it is for hosts and even companies like ours to adequately understand laws that were not meant to apply to regular people hosting to make ends meet.
And more importantly, this decision makes it even more critical that New York law be clarified to make sure regular New Yorkers can occasionally rent out their own homes. There is universal agreement that occasional hosts like Nigel Warren were not the target of the 2010 law, but that agreement provides little comfort to the handful of people, like Nigel, who find themselves targeted by overzealous enforcement officials. It is time to fix this law and protect hosts who occasionally rent out their own homes. 87 percent of Airbnb hosts in New York list just a home they live in — they are average New Yorkers trying to make ends meet, not illegal hotels that should be subject to the 2010 law.
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