Justin Sullivan—Getty Images
By Jacob Davidson
October 16, 2014

If there’s one thing that divides New Yorkers, it’s Airbnb. As New York Magazine’s definitive feature on the do-it-yourself hotel service pointed out, the city is split between those who see Airbnb as an innocent way for New Yorkers to transform their overpriced housing assets into some extra scratch, and those who blame the company for turning their apartment buildings into unregulated crashpads for rag-tag out-of-towners.

On Thursday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman provided the anti-Airbnb camp with more fodder when he accused Airbnb of making $40 million on illegal listings over the past three and a half years. As The New York Post writes, that number is based on a new report from Schneiderman’s office that also estimates 70% of Airbnb’s New York City listings are illegal.

Under New York state law, renters are allowed to sublet their apartment on Airbnb (assuming their lease permits it), but must be physically present while subtenants are there. Conventional landlords, meanwhile, are barred from leasing an apartment for fewer than 30 days — precisely to prevent residential buildings from being turned into unregulated hotels. The Attorney General’s report, which looked at Airbnb bookings from the start of 2010 to June of this year, says the vast majority of the site’s listing are not private citizens monetizing a spare room, but lessors renting out multiple apartments at a time.

Specifically, the Attorney General’s office found more than 100 landlords who used Airbnb to rent out more than 10 apartments each. These owners alone accounted for 47,103 reservations and took in almost $60 million in revenue. One particularly ambitious landlord accounted for 272 unique listings and made $6.8 million off 3,024 reservations. Schneiderman also complained that Airbnb users rarely, if ever, pay the city’s 14.7% hotel occupancy tax and the site has not tried to collect that tax from any of the transactions reviewed by his office.

Concerns over illegal listings are not a new issue for Airbnb. In September, New York Magazine reported on the ongoing fight between the company and New York State Senator Liz Krueger over regulations for the nascent apartment sharing industry. While Airbnb argues that their service enables average folks to pay their rent, the Attorney General’s office has countered that the site’s average “power-user” is making $500,000 a year renting at least 10 different residencies. “[They’re] hardly making ends meet,” a spokesman for the office told the magazine.

Airbnb responded to the report by urging regulators against overreaction. “We should not deny thousands of New Yorkers the chance to share their homes, pay their bills and stay in the city they love,” said the company in statement to the Post. “We need to work together on some sensible rules that stop bad actors and protect regular people who simply want to share the home in which they live.”

 

 

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