Websites offering short-term property rentals have become big business in New York and throughout the country. Many people use services like Airbnb to offer rooms in their homes or apartments to travelers. But you need to be careful. There are a number of state, city, and local laws that may impact the legality of selling even a couple of nights in your spare bedroom to a stranger. In some cases, you could even lose your home for not understanding the law.
Manhattan Tenant Evicted for $649/Night Airbnb Rentals
As noted in a January 2015 article published on The Verge, “It’s currently illegal in New York to rent out apartments in buildings with three or more units for under 30 days.” Essentially, if you live in an apartment and rent out a room for two nights on Airbnb, and you are not present during the renter's stay, the state considers that proof you are operating an unlicensed hotel. Airbnb itself posts information about the New York law on its website, noting there is an exemption for a “boarder, roomer or lodger.” This means you can generally rent a room to someone as long as you are also staying in the unit.
But even such rentals do not run afoul of the state's ban, you may still face action from your landlord for illegally subletting your apartment. You are especially at risk if you live in a rent controlled or rent stabilized unit. For example, the Appellate Term, First Department, recently upheld the eviction of a Manhattan tenant who “listed his rent stabilized apartment on the Airbnb website at a nightly rental rate of $649.” The court said the tenant was clearly renting out his apartment “as if it was a hotel room.” This is considered illegal “profiteering” under New York's rent control laws.
As the court explained, the landlord did not have to give the tenant a warning before seeking his eviction. While there are many cases where a landlord must give notice of a lease violation and afford the tenant an opportunity to “cure” the problem, here that was unnecessary because the tenant charged his Airbnb customers “far in excess of the legal rent and commercialized the premises from the inception of his tenancy.” As the court noted, this defeats the whole purpose of rent control, which is to protect affordable housing for New York City residents, not to “sublease their apartments at market levels and thereby collect the profits which are denied the main landlord.”