New York

New York City Cracked Down on Airbnb. What Happens Next?

Since 2018, Tricia Toliver, a freelance stage manager, has rented out the bottom floor of her Brooklyn townhouse through Airbnb, earning more than $3,000 a month by hosting visitors to New York City for a few days at a time.

But after city officials last week started enforcing rules prohibiting short-term rentals in apartments like hers, Ms. Toliver, 64, had to figure out what she would do with the South Slope apartment. She never wanted to be a landlord, she said, so she has decided to keep it empty in the hopes the rules change again.

“I’m kind of holding on to see what’s going to happen,” she said.

The new rules, which went into effect on Sept. 5, mean as many as 10,800 listings for short-term rentals will likely no longer be available, according to a city estimate from the end of March. City officials say the shift will force property owners to rent those homes to residents instead of visitors, helping to ease the city’s housing shortage.

But to what degree that will happen, and how quickly, is not clear.

In the short-term, many hosts are scrambling: Some are now looking for tenants. Some are trying to figure out if they can rent to professors, nurses or others seeking temporary housing. Some hosts will likely keep renting, but through an underground market. And some, like Ms. Toliver, are waiting, hoping that backlash to the enforcement scheme will change things so she can rent the apartment out again.

In the long-term, some housing experts say, it remains an open question whether the new rules will help or hurt the New York City housing crisis and economy.

Alicia Glen, the previous deputy mayor for housing under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, said she never saw any data showing that short-term rentals were affecting the housing crisis in a significant way. Ms. Glen, who negotiated with Airbnb during her tenure, said such platforms have “opened up travel to hundreds of thousands of people who never would have had the opportunity to come to New York.”

“As a New York booster, that’s a great thing,” she said.

A tax on short-term rentals, for example, could help the city better capitalize on Airbnb. “The key should be, how do you capture this new source of tourism and economic activity and direct it toward improving the life of New Yorkers,” she added.

The main feature of the new rules is a requirement for residents to register with the city in order to rent homes out on a short-term basis. Short-term rentals are only allowed if the host is present during the stay and if there are two guests or less who can access the entire place.

To collect fees associated with the short-term stays, booking companies must now check that a host’s registration application has been approved, or risk financial penalties: Platforms could be fined up to $1,500 for transactions involving illegal rentals. Hosts could also be fined.

While Airbnb said that some hosts were seeing delays in getting their applications processed, officials said the system had been successful so far, and that illegal listings were being removed from platforms like Airbnb, and VRBO. They said that city agents had not yet responded to any complaints about hosts renting their homes out illegally in connection with the new system.

But the risk of a fine is too great for hosts like Aitan Weinberg, who bought a two-family brownstone in Prospect Heights about six years ago and regularly rented the apartment below his on Airbnb. Mr. Weinberg said the apartment, when it wasn’t being rented to guests, was where his parents stayed when they visited from Israel.

But now, he is looking for a long-term tenant and estimates he will take a 40 to 50 percent drop in rental income. With no convenient hotels nearby, he’s not sure where he’ll house his parents during their trips or where his other guests, many visiting grandparents, will go.

“I genuinely think our guests and our neighbors or neighborhood have benefited from the existence of this,” he said of Airbnb rentals like his.

Jason Mondesir-Caesar, 41, also owns a two-family home in Bedford-Stuyvesant where he used to rent out parts of it through Airbnb.

Mr. Mondesir-Caesar said the home, which has been in his family for decades, is co-owned by relatives who live elsewhere. He is looking for a tenant who can rent for a few months, in the event his relatives moved back.

Jason Mondesir-Caesar used to rent out part of his home in Bedford-Stuyvesant on Airbnb before a crackdown on short-term rentals. Now, he’s not sure what he will do.Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

“To be locked into a one- to two-year lease is not a good situation for me,” he said.

While he understood the need for laws that stop people from buying and then renting multiple units illegally, he said he felt the current enforcement scheme would disproportionately penalize people who owned one- and two-family homes, and could also worsen New York City’s housing problems.

“If I go into foreclosure, who’s going to buy this house?” he said. “It’s not somebody who was a tenant somewhere else.”

Guests, also, may need to make other plans. Airbnb, for example, said it would honor reservations made through Dec. 1, but hosts may choose to cancel to avoid penalties.

Simon Feil, an actor living in Park Slope, said his wife’s father, who has cancer and has a hard time walking, had hoped to travel to Brooklyn for his grandson’s upcoming bar mitzvah.

Mr. Feil said he had found a place on Airbnb, but last week the listing “suddenly said bookings of less than 30 days are not accepted anymore.”

Mr. Feil hasn’t found another good option.

The new rules also have Ms. Toliver, the stage manager, pondering what she imagines would be a “worst case scenario” — selling her building if she can’t afford the mortgage any more.

“I’ve lived in New York for 40 years,” she said. “I would hate it to be that the city forced me to do that.”

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