Alternet crows about some gross busybodism on the part of anti-Airbnb activists in New York City, who have created a site called "Inside Airbnb," charting the service's use over the city and essentially ratting out people who might be violating city law by doing short-term apartment rentals. (I've written previously about the New York Attorney General's office frowning concern over the Internet-enabled short-term lodging service.)
Some excerpts from the site's operator Murray Cox in his Alternet interview:
it was widely reported that many Airbnb hosts were operating illegal hotels and that neither the hosts nor Airbnb were collecting taxes. There was an active and public debate in Albany about the laws, and a legal battle to get Airbnb to release data on how their rental platform was being used.
I get suspicious when a company engages in a public relations campaign while laws are being debated by elected officials, or in the courts. It seemed that Airbnb was being completely unaccountable to the community, yet asking for the laws to be changed for their benefit…
Once I saw the data for my neighborhood, it both confirmed my suspicions and surprised me. At least 1,224 Airbnb listings were on the Airbnb website for Bedford-Stuyvesant, with 633 (51.7%) of those being for an "entire home/apartment." Looking at the calendars and reviews for the entire homes/apartments, I found that more than 90% of them were available for more than 60 days out of the year, and on average received a review from a guest once a month…..
In addition, 43.5% of the listings in Bedford-Stuyvesant were by hosts with more than one listing, sometimes multiple entire apartments or multiple rooms in an apartment building. This is not a story of "sharing" or of a "sharing economy."
While the term "sharing economy" probably has helped get certain people of vaguely communitarian tinge to sometimes get behind economic phenomena like Uber and Airbnb that are indeed just further manifestations of the ancient human desire to exchange goods and services for money, it does provide an easy way for people like Cox to sneer and act as if they've made a substantive critique, so maybe it is time to defenders of tech-enabled market transactions to walk away from it.
So, what's the problem with units shifting from long-term to short-term rental if that's where more people demonstrate the desire to spend their money? Well, it creates a pattern that Cox isn't happy with:
While Airbnb might not be the root cause of inequality and gentrification, they are enabling behavior by property owners and investors which directly impacts the housing supply for regular New Yorkers (in a city with a very high percentage of renters). This includes not only renting rooms and apartments to tourists that have historically been rented to residents, but also includes buying and renovating real estate just for the purpose of renting to tourists….
Also, it brings the wrong sort of people to certain neighborhoods. You know. Don't make him say it!
There is also a high correlation with racial gentrification. When I examined the racial identity of Airbnb hosts in historically segregated neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, many of the host photos did not match the racial demographic of their neighborhood.
Cox goes on to call on citizens to use existing laws and regulations and "housing support" groups as tools to help mess up the lives of people who might want to rent, or be renters, in NYC properties short term, using the information he provides as an aid. Sigh.
WNYC radio reported last month on the city using Palantir data technology for its own inspectors to keep on top of illegal Airbnbing.
In other Airbnb news, late last year the Manhattan Supreme Court ruled that a rent-controlled duplex renter was illegally "profiteering" through Airbnb, as New York Law Journal reported:
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Carol Robinson Edmead….issued a temporary injunction against Noelle Penraat [accused of making] substantial income from renting to visitors arranged through Airbnb in 2013 and 2014 in an "incurable" violation of Rent Control Laws.
The laws prohibit occupants of rent-controlled apartments from subleasing their units at rates higher than what the building owners can charge.
Edmead said in Brookford v. Penraat, 159605/14, that while Penraat pays $4,477 a month on her four-bedroom duplex at 315 Central Park West—minus a $284 monthly discount through the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) program—she made an average of $6,500 a month through Airbnb rentals from January through June 2014.
"In essence, defendant's own records indicate that she has been profiteering from a rent-controlled apartment partially subsidized by another government program, SCRIE," Edmead wrote….
The owner of Penraat's building, Brookford LLC, brought suit on claims that Penraat's rental activities broke not only the Rent Control Law, but also the Multiple Dwelling Law, the Housing Maintenance Code and the New York City Building Code.
Edmead said she was granting the preliminary injunction because Brookford has demonstrated a likelihood that it will prevail in its action and that Penraat was, in fact, breaking the law.
New York Post reported last week on a similar anti-Airbnb-using tenant ruling by a Manhattan Housing Court judge, and quotes:
state Sen. Liz Krueger, an opponent of the site. "This decision reinforces what tenant advocates and I have been saying all along — almost all NYC residents who list their homes on sites like Airbnb are violating the terms of their leases and putting themselves at risk of eviction," Krueger said.
Doug Henwood in great detail at the Nation laid out this month a wan leftist bill of indictment against all the new, Internet-enabled uses of property to more widely and efficiently meet human needs. Things like Uber and Airbnb might not rise to the level of full immiseration of the proletariat or theft of the fruits of the people's labor, but, well, Henwood indicts, the movement is "individualized and market-driven [and] sees us all as micro-entrepreneurs fending for ourselves in a hostile world."
It also isn't really as communal as some of the rhetoric surrounding it pretends, shifts some people's rental property to uses neighbors or city planners might not like, and while pretending to transcend ownership, in fact is just about one more series of crummy poor paying jobs.
If that is the best that the Nation can come up with in an ideological war against the tech-enabled "sharing economy" (really just one more facet of the market economy, one further example of being trading their goods and services with each other, just in ways that used to be too difficult for us to manage) that's a good sign for the long-term victory for the idea that we should be able to make mutually satisfying deals with our cars, homes, apartments, CNC mills, and anything else.
However, as the laws and decisions bedeviling Airbnb's show, bad existing laws are already enough to severly limit the amount of human happiness that tech will allow us to achieve, whether the ideological battle against the so-called "sharing economy" is won or not.