(photo: Sofie Hecht / Gotham Gazette)
Teaching children to share is difficult. Teaching Airbnb to share is impossible. Airbnb’s version of the “sharing economy” means more profits for the company and less affordable housing for the rest of us.
Airbnb repeatedly allows and provides cover for commercial operators to break the law, turn our homes into hotels, and parachute into our communities to make a profit, pilfering apartments along the way. Instead of working with enforcement officials to curb illegal listings, the company uses every legal maneuver in the books—fighting subpoenas and refusing to share data—to take more and more housing out of our communities.
Airbnb could easily disclose data on its listings. It does so in San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, and even China. But it refuses in New York. Why? Because it’s by far the company’s largest U.S. market, where it makes hundreds of millions more than any other U.S. city.
It even goes as far as shielding unscrupulous commercial operators that evict tenants from rent-stabilized apartments just to protect its biggest money makers.
And that’s on top of fueling gentrification and contributing to rising rents around the city as a result of stripping the long-term housing market of thousands of units.
Again, that’s not sharing. That’s taking. And that’s why the New York City Council’s efforts to rein in an unaccountable, deceitful corporation by forcing Airbnb to disclose the addresses of its listings to enforcement officials needs to happen, and happen soon.
Here’s the thing about Airbnb: the company thinks the rules don’t apply to it. In cities across the country and, in fact, across the globe, there has been a reckoning with communities and local governments passing sensible regulations to protect residents, only to see those laws ignored by a corporation that has built assets totaling more than $30 billion. And there are few cities that know this better than New York.
In 2010, state lawmakers modified the 1929 Multiple Dwelling Law to ban short-term rentals in New York City apartment buildings for fewer than 30 days while the primary tenant is not present to ensure the “sharing economy” did not close the door to affordable housing on actual long-term tenants, or create quality-of-life issues in buildings not zoned for hotel and commercial activity. It was strengthened in 2016 to allow for more enforcement but Airbnb continues to throw up roadblocks.
The company’s refusal to follow that law has allowed tens of thousands of illegal entire home/apartment listings to proliferate across the city in the midst of an affordable housing crisis when New Yorkers needed those apartments the most.
Just last year alone, Airbnb generated $435 million in revenue from illegal listings in New York City, according to the School of Urban Planning at McGill University. That’s 435 million reasons why Airbnb cannot be trusted to police its own website, and why New York officials must step up, yet again, to pass additional regulations to stop Airbnb from breaking our laws.
Like the stories we have heard in cities such as San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Chicago, Barcelona, Paris, Toronto, and Amsterdam, to name a few, the wealthiest among us have come to view Airbnb as a tool to make millions by turning homes into hotels and reducing available housing stock for everyone else. In New York, this has resulted in 13,500 units being removed from the housing market, according to the McGill report, making it even harder to find an available and affordable place to live.
Make no mistake: despite the company’s best attempts to distract from the truth, the legislation being proposed by the New York City Council would have zero effect on the nice families in Airbnb’s commercials using the platform to make ends meet. Regular folks sharing their homes legally and responsibly are not the problem, and they are also not the norm when it comes to Airbnb. The millions of dollars the company invests in slick marketing and expensive lobbyists to peddle their ongoing misinformation campaigns does not change the fact its platform is overrun by unscrupulous landlords subverting our laws to make extra bucks at the expense of regular New Yorkers.
Why should Airbnb be rewarded for having the track record of a greedy corporation that refuses to follow the law?
In San Francisco, when Airbnb refused to police its site of illegal listings, the city enacted regulations forcing Airbnb to disclose the addresses of its listings, sending a strong message to bad actors and serial lawbreakers that they would no longer get a free pass to flout the law and profit from illegal activity.
Almost immediately, Airbnb listings in San Francisco dropped by more than half and thousands of apartments returned to the long-term market for permanent residents.
Now it’s New York’s turn.
No corporation should get to pick and choose what laws it follows and what laws it breaks in order to make a profit on the backs of middle-class families.
The New York City Council and Mayor de Blasio must see through Airbnb’s lies and deceit and act once and for all to protect tenants by swiftly passing legislation requiring Airbnb to share the addresses of its listings so enforcement officials can protect our communities and affordable housing.
Tom Cayler is a member of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance in Manhattan.