Last week was the New York City Council Meeting – “Oversight: Short Term Rentals – Stimulating the Economy or Destabilizing Neighborhoods?”
You can view the video of the meeting above; it’s long and heartbreaking. I almost cried during my testimony (you can view this moment at 06:11:15 or go to the end of the post to read the transcript*). I look at the video and think, “I should get rid of those white pants,” and “wow, do I need to lose weight.” Thankfully, that’s one my SMART goals of this year.
Why have I chosen to become a host talking to the press and testifying, or how I became, what I call, an activist host?
When I started with Airbnb in 2010, hosting became my secondary income as I was still getting some freelance work as a Producer. By 2011, my producing career was almost non-existent and Airbnb became my primary income.
My peace of mind came under threat when my friends started sending me emails about Airbnb and this new Multiple Dwelling law about short term rentals. At the time, I had very little understanding of the legal realm of being a host. I didn’t know what my legal status was with the city, whether I had to pay additional business taxes, i.e.: sales tax, hotel tax, etc. I spoke with a lawyer, accountant and even an architect (for zoning) and they all recommended that I just keep my head down.
I didn’t like the feeling of possibly running counter to the law, nor did I want to risk any of my assets. And really, at my age, I was not about to go and live with my mom if things didn’t work out.
I became an “activist host” in 2012 when Airbnb asked me to speak at a New York State meeting in regards of the new state law governing short term rentals, which had passed in 2010. I was a bit too passionate during my testimony; the plus side was that I found out I was legal. So I spoke to whoever Airbnb wanted me to speak to – the press, hosts, and anyone willing to listen to our plight. We wanted a fair home sharing law.
What does it mean to be legal or Why am I legal?
Because I own–well, the bank owns–a two-family home. I’m allowed to have short term guests without any limitations. That’s New York's state law. The city doesn’t have a law pertaining to short term rentals. However, there are other ways for hosts to fall outside the law. For example your landlord or co-op board might not allow short term rentals. Or you might be in a rent stabilized unit.
The conversations heated up in 2013 when the state attorney, Eric Schneiderman, requested the data of New York hosts. Yes, the State Attorney wanted all of our data: bank information, the number of times we hosted, name of guests, everything from 2010 to the date of delivery.
Airbnb resisted this request; however, in 2014, the company was forced to provide host information to New York State’s Attorney. It wasn’t as all encompassing as the original request from 2013: Airbnb only had to provide the anonymized data of their hosts. Airbnb retracted our names and if you lived in a building your unit number. I was in the mix, but I wasn’t worried.
In 2015, New York City worries that Airbnb is destabilizing neighborhoods. This is particularly true in Manhattan, where hosts are in multi-unit apartment buildings and sometimes rent the entire apartment as a short-term rental–29 days or less–without the host present, which is illegal in the state of New York.
Once more, Airbnb requested for hosts to testify during this New York City meeting and again, many of us stepped up.
Here is a link to Airbnb's Responsible Hosting page. It has US City regulations information.
Why the governments and some people don't like Airbnb?
The legality of Airbnb is a complicated issue, and I don’t have all of the answers. Part of the problem is that some hosts have made businesses out of renting on Airbnb by eliminating apartments out of the market. These hosts have never lived in the buildings, did not have relationships with the neighbors, and were operating an illegal hotel.
When a host isn't present sharing the space with guests, the guests can feel they have more freedom, because there isn’t someone around making sure everyone behaves well. It happened in my home. I had guests renting the entire house while I wasn’t staying there, and they were in the backyard having some drinks and talking. Nothing bad, but it was during the week, and my neighbors had to work the next day. I had to make peace with everyone.
The New York hotel industry states Airbnb will close down hotels and this will eliminate jobs. In addition, you have hosts living on rent stabilized apartments doing Airbnb. Is this ethical, or is it an abuse of a system intended to created middle class, affordable housing?
This situation isn’t just happening in New York, it’s heating up in multiple cities in the United States and other countries. Some countries and some US Cities have passed new laws regarding the “sharing economy” while others are still trying to figure it out.
The sharing economy isn’t going anywhere but it will be different from what it is today.
What would you like to see in this sharing economy world? What’s your opinion on this issue? Do you know if you’re legal? Are you becoming involved in the politics of your area?
If you want more tips, how-to, and insider information on providing the best experience in this sharing economy, sign up for updates.
Have a great week!
And as always, Happy Hosting!
If you want to read a recap of the New York City Council Meeting go to the Airbnb groups where Adina, another Brooklyn host, wrote a very comprehensive recap, follow this link (You will need to be a host)
* And here is the transcript of my testimony.
Hi, my name is Evelyn Badia, I live in Park Slope Brooklyn. I don’t want to testify about my story because it’s just like many people. I lost my job in 2010. Airbnb save my home. I do not collect any money from the government. But I’m able to pay my mortgage. Only because of Airbnb.
I understand that there has been some issues. The system is not perfect. And just like any new industry there is bugs, there is people that try to take advantage of the capitalism of it because it’s a great way to make a living . Which is what I’m doing right now.
In 2013 I had a job, because I’m a freelancer, the company went under. They never had to pay me. Do I have any recollection? Can I get any money from them? No, because they were protected. But so was my home, because Airbnb was there.
I live with strangers, was this my dream? Never. At 48 years old I never thought that I would have to be sharing my home, that I bought, with someone else. But I’m able to do it because of the money I make with Airbnb.
I understand that you might have some issues with them. I understand that you might have some issues with the company or how they’re handling the business. But I do appreciate that they’re not giving you my information. I do appreciate that.
I hosted people during Sandy. No hotel in my neighborhood, and there is 3 of them, was doing that. I had people that stayed, that lived in Staten Island that lost it all, for 30 days in my house without me making a dime. Exactly. Neither myself nor Airbnb made money and like me there was 1400 hosts that open up our homes.
You know why? Because we know how to.
We know how to host you, we know how to host your parents, we know how to host your family. And just like that I’m able to open up my home. Not just to tourists, and grandparents, but also even to my neighbors family.
(there was a ding announcing my time was up)
I’m going to wrap it up.
So, I understand we’re legal, but all the conversation feels like we’re not. And being from Puerto Rico I get a little passionate about that. (yes, I got applause)