Half Of Airbnb’s New York Listings Are Illegal

The popular apartment rental site Airbnb is under fire again after skift.com revealed that thousands of Airbnb’s listings for New York City are comprised of illegal residences.

In June 2010, the state of New York passed a law that banned a certain type of short term rental – stays of less than 30 days where the owner of the property is absent – but search for a place to stay in the Big Apple on Airbnb and about half of the results that come up fall afoul of the law. According to Skift, many of the company’s other popular destinations such as San Francisco, Paris and Hawaii also yield illegal listings.

This isn’t just a problem for Airbnb, but for users of the site as well. Hosts that rent out rooms or apartments illegally could face fines of anywhere from $1000 to tens of thousands of dollars, while travelers who stay in these apartments risk penalties of $1000 and up.

Since its launch in 2008, Airbnb has grown into a popular means of finding accommodation. The site helps visitors find a place to sleep at a fraction of the cost of a hotel, many of the residences have additional amenities you can use (like kitchens), and you get the benefit of a local host with insider tips on what to see and do.

More than ten million night’s worth of bookings have been made through the site, but the company has been through its share of PR nightmares over the past few years. First there was this story about a host’s house that was trashed by guests and then there were the apartment owners in Sweden who were shocked to find their home was being used as a brothel.

As for the illegal listings, Airbnb believes the law regarding them is unclear. “Even for full apartment listings under 29 days some are legal,” the company told Skift.

So how can you make sure the NYC rental you’re booking is legal? If the listing is for a room and the owner will be in the house or apartment with you, that’s completely above board. But, if you see a vacancy for an entire “Class A” apartment, you’re staying for less than 30 days, and the owner won’t be around – steer clear.

[Photo Credit - Flickr user Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta]