Airbnb Rankling New Yorkers as Complaints About Hosts Stack UpKelly Gilblom
Complaints in New York City connected to illegal short-term rentals jumped 62 percent last year, prompting regulators to target apartment owners who use websites such as Airbnb Inc. that enable those deals.
Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, told City Council members Tuesday that New Yorkers lodged 1,150 complaints about so-called “short-term transient rentals” last year, up from 712 the year before.
The grievances threaten to stoke the debate over Airbnb. Proponents of the Web-based service say it helps New Yorkers pad their income in one of the world’s most expensive cities, while critics say apartment owners aren’t suited to host paying guests.
Glazer’s 12-person office focuses most of its attention on owners of properties that receive a high volume of the complaints, a sign they may be large commercial operators rather than individuals, she said.
“We’re going after who the actual actors are and where the locations are that we’re seeing the activity,” Glazer said.
Complaints last year led to almost 900 inspections and Glazer’s office issued about 600 violations and summonses, said Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for the city.
“Over the years we’ve required many safety procedures for legal hotels,” Thomas Jensen, a New York City Fire Department chief, said at the hearing. “Just about all of that is missing in these transient occupancies.”
25,000 in NYC
Founded in 2008, Airbnb lets hosts rent out a couch, bedroom or house and makes money by charging a fee for each transaction. The company has listings in more than 34,000 cities, according to its website, and has raised financing from venture-capital firms including Sequoia Capital, Greylock Partners and Founders Fund. Investors and analysts speculated early last year that it may go public with a $10 billion valuation.
The company, based in San Francisco, has about 25,000 active hosts in New York at any given time, David Hantman, global head of public policy for Airbnb, said at the hearing. Problems are uncommon, he said.
“I know these rare issues are the ones that make the news,” Hantman said. “They are more interesting than the more than 2 million guests who have acted responsibly, spent money in the 5 boroughs and returned home without incident.”
In October, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said as many as 72 percent of Airbnb reservations in New York City are illegal.