Most of the Airbnb generation – those savvy travel-hounds who book low-cost flights and an Airbnb apartment for a weekend city break – would agree: Renting somebody’s home, rather than a hotel room, isn’t only more financially viable, it’s preferable.
Sure, there’s no room service and your bed won’t be made up while you’re out sightseeing. But many who use home-sharing websites like Airbnb find they get more space and a personal, homely experience.
However, local laws in cities such as New York and Berlin mean renting some short-let properties could be considered illegal. If you’re planning an Airbnb trip this summer, read on…
What do the laws in New York say?
A report by the New York state Attorney General released in 2014 found that as many as 72% of Airbnb reservations over the last few years violated New York law.
Since 2010, it has actually been illegal under the multiple dwelling law to rent out a home in a building in the city with more than two properties and where the resident is not present. In October last year, it became illegal to even post such homes on sites like Airbnb.
That basically means you can’t legally rent out a flat in a building where there are more than two apartments – although you can rent an individual room or a sofa.
What’s going on in Berlin?
In Berlin the laws are even tougher. Landlords can rent out up to 50% of a home they live in, but entire homes can only be rented out in special circumstances, with a city permit.
Airbnb says Berlin’s law “hurts regular Berliners who want to benefit from home sharing by occasionally renting out their home”.
Patrick Robinson, director of public policy (Europe, Middle East and Africa) at Airbnb, says: “The Berlin housing law is broken and has been challenged by court rulings, expert opinions, politicians and local families. In Berlin, a typical Airbnb host shares his home for 28 days a year and makes an extra income of 1,500 Euros.”
So what’s the harm in people renting out their own homes on a short-term basis?
There are several arguments made by local authorities, one being that if increasing numbers of residents rent out their properties as holiday lets, there are fewer long-term rentals available, and therefore renting for local residents becomes more expensive.
Some city authorities say this could also lead to neighbourhoods becoming overrun by short-term renters, and local hotel business is suffering.
Will you get into trouble as a guest if you rent an illegally-posted property?
No, at the moment there’s no fine for guests and if a problem does occur, the company have a ‘trust and safety team’ on call 24/7 to help.
Robinson says: “There have been over 180 million guest arrivals in Airbnb listings and negative incidents are extremely rare.”
Could this happen in other cities?
Negotiations have been going on with authorities all over the world. Since the start of this year, Airbnb’s systems automatically limit entire home listings in Greater London to 90 nights per calendar year. This is because short-term lets are subject to planning restrictions in the capital, although there may be exceptions if hosts are granted permission from their local authority. In Amsterdam, the limit is 60 nights.
Airbnb say they aren’t worried about the strict rules set in New York and Berlin being replicated elsewhere in the world. “Cities like Berlin and New York are exceptions, and we continue to work closely with policymakers in those cities on progressive rules that support thousands of local families and communities that rely on home sharing to boost incomes and local economies,” says Robinson.
“We take local considerations very seriously, which is why we have worked closely with legislators across the globe to establish clear home-sharing rules, and why we have taken voluntary proactive steps in cities like London and Amsterdam to help ensure home sharing grows responsibly and sustainably.”
What does it mean for Airbnb?
Well, Airbnb sued the state of New York over the new regulations initially, so authorities held off enforcing them until recently when Airbnb dropped the law suit. The state aren’t landing the company itself with fines – ‘serial violator’ hosts are being targeted instead.
Robinson says: “The current law fails to distinguish between New Yorkers who occasionally share their own home and bad others who remove permanent housing from the market. ”
Since the housing law in Berlin came into effect a year ago, Airbnb have been fighting for it to change.
The tricky thing is that every city is different. The home sharing site obviously recognise the need to be flexible and are working with “more than 300 governments” to protect communities and offer people the right to share their home or rent it out. They have a one-host-one-home policy to avoid landlords making a business out of renting multiple properties.
So if some postings are illegal, why are they even allowed to be uploaded?
At the moment, there’s nothing stopping people from advertising such properties, and it’s impossible for prospective guests to know which ones don’t follow the rules. Airbnb do take down some listings though.
Robinson says: “We have removed over 4,200 listings in New York City since Nov 2015 and our platform prevents hosts from listing more than one entire home unit in the city under our ‘one host one home policy.”
The onus seems to be mainly on guests to do their research into local laws, if they want to rent legally listed properties. Airbnb recommends guests read reviews properly, communicate with the host beforehand, and always pay directly for their trip on Airbnb.
For more information, visit Airbnb’s Community Compact.