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A new report blames thousands of illegal Airbnbs for NYC’s rising rent prices

By Clayton Guse
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Find yourself wondering why rents in New York City have skyrocketed in recent years? A new report claims to have the answer: the rise of home-sharing service Airbnb.

Published by researchers from McGill University in Montreal, the analysis comes with some bias. It was commissioned by the Hotel Trades Council and was co-sponsored by a variety of New York City community and housing organizations. Nevertheless, it does shine some light on the high number of illegal Airbnb rentals in the city and the major impact they’re having on rent prices and communities across the five boroughs. 

The report estimates that 51 percent of listings on Airbnb in the city are illegal, specifically violating New York State’s Multiple Dwelling Law, which deems rentals shorter than 30 days in buildings with three or more units unlawful. Those rentals account for two-thirds of the revenue from Airbnb’s in Gotham, or a whopping $435 million in 2017. That’s nearly a quarter of what marijuana grosses each year on the black market in NYC.

But beyond enabling an illegal cottage industry, the report claims that Airbnb has a slew of negative effects on the city’s neighborhoods and rent prices. Overall, it found that the service took between 7,000 and 13,500 units of housing off the market last year, and directly caused median rents citywide to rise by 1.4 percent, or $380. That figure rises to $700 in Manhattan.

What’s perhaps most concerning about the report’s findings is which residents are benefitting most from Airbnbs. The study looked at listings in 72 predominately black neighborhoods across the five boroughs, and found that 74 percent of the Airbnb hosts in those areas were white, despite the white resident population being just 14 percent. 

“This disparity between short-term and long-term rents is driving Airbnb-induced housing loss and gentrification,” the report says, noting that there are nearly 300 listings across town that earned at least $100,000 in revenue last year. 

The NYPD began implementing a variety of tactics to crackdown on illegal Airbnb listings last year, but the report claims that property owners and renters are still exploiting the service to the detriment of their surrounding communities. 

So, if you’re looking to blame someone for your ridiculously expensive rent, maybe point your finger at the hundreds of shady Airbnb hosts across town.  

Update: Airbnb’s head of northwest policy Josh Meltzer has issued the following statement in response to the report: “Although inconvenient for this author's anti-home sharing bias, Airbnb supports legislation that would restrict home sharing to one single home, which would finally allow enforcement to focus on illegal hotel operators while protecting regular New Yorkers who are trying to make some extra money to live in a city that gets more expensive by the year. The comprehensive legislation being considered in Albany would protect public safety and target bad actors operating illegal hotels, while allowing responsible hosts to continue to share their primary home."

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