NYC Airbnb Crackdown Means Trouble For Landlords (And Housecleaners)

Airbnb, the popular home-renting platform, has had its share of issues, especially when apartment-dwellers decide to rent out their rooms. In places like New York City, landlords and tenants alike have faced fines for renting out their domiciles through the service. The Big Apple may be cracking down on violators, but it’s had an unintended cost: independent housecleaners have been caught in the crossfire, and their business is suffering as a result.

Back in 2010, it became illegal for New York City residents and landlords to rent out their apartments in buildings with more than three units for fewer than 30 days. If you’re in-house during the rental period or you live in a one- or two-family home, it’s okay to do so. But should you want to rent out your place for less than a month, you’ll need a hotel permit for that. While more than 98% of all privately owned residential buildings are located in permit-issuing places, you won’t be able to obtain a hotel permit for your Manhattan apartment. And if you decide to rent it out anyway, you’ll be subject to heavy fines, thanks to a new law that went into effect on January 31 of this year.

The city has reportedly started to crack down on violators. Since the law was passed, 139 violations have been issued to 16 different hosts, according to the mayor’s office. One building owner was recently fined up to $55,000 and received an order to vacate after building five residential units on the roof and renting them out to tourists through Airbnb. The city is also suing one landlord for $1.2 million after repeatedly renting out several different units on the platform.

But there are actually thousands of violators who aren’t being punished. While 139 violations have been issued, there are currently 23,000-plus potentially illegal Airbnb units being advertised in New York City. While some of those could actually be exempt from punishment, there are still tons that shouldn’t be.

These landlords aren’t the only ones who are suffering the consequences of the Airbnb crackdown. Due to the increased legal action, those who do continue to rent out their units illegally are being much more careful about doing so. These less frequent, stealthier hostings mean that independent housecleaners — who previously enjoyed the popularity of the platform, as it meant a real boost for their business — are finding it much harder to make a steady income.

Take Joanna Rodriguez, for example. She filled a position with Cooperative Cleaning, a worker-owned company that was developing a program through Airbnb. The company’s main focus was to hire women, and particularly women of color, who could earn $15 an hour plus benefits and work a guaranteed 30 hours a week cleaning apartments.

Keeping clean is a big business and generates more than $168 billion in annual revenue worldwide. Rodriguez’s new gig started off great, but after the new law was signed in October, work started to decrease. After it went into effect in January, Rodriguez was working an average of eight hours per week.

Hotel workers might actually be at risk, too. The popularity of Airbnb caused New York hotels to take a $451 million revenue loss in 2015. And if the hotel business is suffering, launderers and housekeepers will, too. But most of these workers are protected by unions; the same cannot be said for the female, independent housecleaners, many of whom are single moms, who work throughout the city and depend on these kinds of jobs to make ends meet.
There is some hope in New York City, where Airbnb is seeking to update or amend an existing law that would permit short-term rentals for occupants who register their apartment with the state. If passed, the law would not apply to landlords. But the bill is already being contested and may not ever be signed into law.

For now, New York City residents will have to rent their homes out on the sly if they want to continue evading the law. Independent contractors likely hope that they’ll at least want a thorough cleaning before their guests arrive.

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