Local City Council member Rosie Mendez is one of two sponsors behind new legislation that would potentially empower tenants to sue their landlords for using Airbnb or other short-term stay services to rent out neighboring apartments as hotel rooms.
Here's the official release via Mendez's office yesterday:
NYC Council Members Rory Lancman and Rosie Mendez announced the introduction of legislation to crack down on tenant harassment from illegal hotel conversions. Their bill would expand the definition of harassment to include illegal conversions of residential units, and create a new civil penalty for landlords who use Airbnb and other illegal hotel companies to harass and push out tenants using illegal conversions.
"Airbnb and illegal hotels destroy the quality of life of those around them and pose a grave threat to New York's affordable housing supply. This bill lets tenants take landlords to court to win injunctions against illegal conversions and impose fines that support the city's housing enforcement efforts. We need to call out illegal hotel conversions for what they really are — tenant harassment," said NYC Council Member Rory Lancman, Chair of the Committee on Courts & Legal Services.
“I am proud to co-introduce legislation with Councilman Rory Lancman that would enable tenants to sue their landlords in housing court for renting out residential apartments, contrary to the law, as hotel units,” said NYC Council Member Rosie Mendez.
Tenant harassment complaints in Housing Court have nearly doubled since 2011, and complaints of illegal hotels in New York City have also greatly increased in recent years. In 2014, there were 1,150 illegal hotel complaints, a 62 percent increase since 2013. 883 inspections were performed in response to those 1,150 complaints and 804 violations were issued. Unsurprisingly, the growth of illegal hotel activity in New York City has matched rapid growth of online short-term rental websites like Airbnb.
There are currently over 28,000 residential units being listed for transient hotel use on Airbnb. This represents a 5,800 percent growth in units from 2009, when Airbnb first began allowing New Yorkers to list their residences online. A report published late last year by the New York State Attorney General analyzing Airbnb bookings in New York City from January 1, 2010 through June 2, 2014, found that nearly 75 percent of Airbnb’s listings were in violation of state law.
Furthermore, a new data tool – www.insideairbnb.com — launched by an independent software developer that collects all public data points from Airbnb’s website showed:
• The value of 77 percent of Airbnb listings comes from illegal rentals of entire apartments;
• Nearly 60 percent (16,000) of Airbnb listings offer the entire home/apartment (in violation of state law), and those units are available for rent an average of 247 days (68 percent of the year); and
• Nearly one-third of Airbnb listings come from hosts with multiple units, such as commercial landlords, not regular New York tenants.
Currently, the definition of what constitutes legally actionable harassment does not include illegal conversions. If passed, this new expanded definition of harassment would allow a court to impose a civil penalty against a landlord of between $1,000 and $5,000 for every unit in which the court finds a tenant who is lawfully entitled to that unit has been harassed (through the existence of an illegal conversion).
Just last week, Governor Cuomo, Attorney General Schneiderman, and Mayor de Blasio announced the launch of a joint enforcement task force, titled the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force, to investigate and bring enforcement actions – including criminal charges – against landlords who harass tenants. The task force will confront the rise in complaints that landlords are using a variety of tactics, including disruptive and dangerous renovation and construction projects, to force tenants into vacating rent-regulated apartments.
Under the Lancman/Mendez tenant harassment bill, illegal hotel conversions would be included in the definition of harassment, and therefore could fall under the jurisdiction of the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force and be subject to its investigations and enforcement actions.
Airbnb spokeperson Nick Papas told the Post: "We strongly oppose large-scale illegal hotels and we know most Airbnb hosts share only the home in which they live and use the money they earn to pay the bills."