At City Hall, officials kick off AirBnB counteroffensive
Mayor Bill de Blasio isn’t doing enough to crack down on the illegal conversion of apartments into hotel rooms, said elected officials who participated in a show of force against AirBnB Friday morning in front of City Hall.
“Thank goodness we have our attorney general making sure everyone’s abiding by the law,” said Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, referring to Eric Schneiderman’s much-publicized investigation into AirBnB’s “home sharing” practices. “But until the time that AirBnB goes away, we need help. ... We need the mayor’s office, the special protection unit, now.”
“Most importantly at the city level, we need a stepped-up enforcement effort from the City Office of Special Enforcement,’ said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a few minutes later.
Both officials are Democrats representing districts in Manhattan.
At issue is the state’s multiple dwelling law, which forbids a tenant from subletting an apartment for fewer than 30 days.
A tenant is, however, allowed to rent out a room to an AirBnB guest if the tenant remains on the premises.
And the law does not apply to one- and two-family homes.
Critics of AirBnB contend that the San Francisco-based company with the $10 billion valuation and the roughly 19,500 New York City listings skirts that law, enabling landlords to kick tenants out of affordable housing, warehouse their apartments and then rent them as illegal hotel rooms.
“Fundamentally what we have seen is a decrease of affordable housing in the City of New York, as these apartments are literally taken off the market to be used full-time for illegal hoteling activities,” said State Senator Liz Krueger, a longtime AirBnB critic.
The city’s “special enforcement unit” is the city agency charged with enforcing that aspect of the law. But the office is small and short-staffed, and while it responds to resident complaints, critics contend, it doesn’t proactively pursue violations of the law.
De Blasio has allies in the hotel workers' union, which opposes AirBnB, but all three of AirBnB's co-founders—Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczy—also donated the maximum $4,950 amount to his mayoral campaign.
For a while now, de Blasio has signaled some vague discomfort with the company. The mayor's press office didn’t respond to a request for a response to today's event.
The press conference marked the beginning of an organized counteroffensive against AirBnB, which has spent months advertising on New York City subways and televisions (and with media outlets, including this one) touting the role it plays in helping struggling apartment-dwellers make ends meet.
The counteroffensive, mounted by a coalition of affordable housing advocates and elected officials allied with the Hotel Trades Council, is called Share Better. It plans to spend roughly $3 million getting its message out. It estimates that AirBnB has spent roughly $25 million, including more than $500,000 on lobbyists.
AirBnB is also a sponsor of the New York City Marathon.
In anticipation of reporters' questions, an AirBnB spokesman on Friday sent out a favorable op-ed written by an AirBnB host and a factsheet on its website decrying the role of the hotel industry in the opposition.
Certainly, the sheer number of elected officials who took part in Friday morning’s protest and were listed as allies in the release—15 councilmembers, 14 state legislative leaders, Public Advocate Tish James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Rep. Jerry Nadler—is a testament, in part, to the sway of the Hotel Trades Council.
Neal Kwatra, the founder of Metropolitan Public Strategies, is spearheading the anti-AirBnB effort. His last public-sector job was as Schneiderman’s chief of staff. Before that, he was the hotel union’s chief political strategist.
On Friday, the coalition distributed an online ad making fun of AirBnB’s marketing efforts.
“From my window I see first the sunlight, and the rosy clouds and the dawn,“ says a voiceover, as the cameras focuses in on a grimy window. “Sometimes I hear a little chicken.”
The camera cuts to mouse droppings.