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Council weighs in on Airbnb's impact on city's housing crisis

Audience members show their disapproval as representatives of

Audience members show their disapproval as representatives of Airbnb testify during an oversight hearing on short term rentals in Manhattan, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Hundreds of supporters and opponents of Airbnb and other online home-sharing services squared off at City Hall Tuesday over the industry's impact on city housing.

City Council members on the Housing Committee grilled tenants, Airbnb represenatives and housing advocates over the intricacies of home sharing, which has increased in popularity over the years.

Hosts who use Airbnb held a rally ouside City Hall before the hearing and talked about how the service helps them mget by financially while a helping tourists explore the city on a budget.

"Most of my guests are families," said Nan Doyle of Fort Greene, who rents out a room in her three-family home. "They can't afford a hotel and have a real vacation."

Members of the Share Better coalition -- comprised of affordable housing groups, tenants and elected officials who held a counter rally -- contend that the short-term rentals cause safety concerns and add to the city's shrinking vacancy problem by eating up open units. .

Audrey Smaltz said her midtown apartment building is filled with these temporary guests.

"My friends and family are being replaced by total strangers," she said.

Under the state's multiple dwelling law, rentals of units for 30 consecutive days or less in buildings larger than two-family are prohibited if a host isn't in the unit or if there is monetary compensation.

A 2014 report from the state attorney general's office found that the number of city units booked for private, short-term rentals increased from 2,652 in 2010 to 16,483 in just the first five months of last year.

The report added that 72% of Airbnb units were illegal. David Hantman, the head of global policy for Airbnb, said the law was being used to discriminate against users who rent out their homes a few days a year. He added that the company shut down account holders with multiple listings for several units.

Critics say this is a loophole that allows landlords to fill their apartments without giving full leases. Hantman did admit that Airbnb couldn't get involved when their hosts get into disputes about the legality of their share with landlords.

"We have to rely on some point with the hosts to abide by their rules," he said.

Councilman Jumaane Williams, the chair of the housing committee, slammed Hantman for not addressing the issue over the dwelling laws and the company's impact on affordable units.

"You really should pay attention to the laws and cities you're setting up your business in," he said.

In a statement, Airbnb offered some solutions such as "creating smart limits" for sharing on rent regulated homes or allow the company to collect and remit taxes.

"We believe there is a simple fix and we hope legislators in Albany take up that fix this year," he said.

State Assemb. Linda Rosenthal, who is a member of Share Better, likened Airbnb to "an invading army" and warned against giving them more leeway.

"Legalizing Airbnb's activity in New York would further destabilize communities," she said in a statement.


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