NYC Apartments Illegally Converted to Rent on Airbnb

I am a tenant in a rent-controlled residential apartment building in New York City. Our landlady has evicted several tenants under the guise she needs the apartment unit for family members. Once they had been vacated, the landlady brought in IKEA furniture and set up the units for Airbnb guests. The new state laws allow for short-term Airbnb rentals of 30 days or more if the host is the lease holder. Because this particular building is rent controlled, the owner gets tax breaks in exchange for abiding by rent regulations. She must lease out units to renters who will carry a minimum of a one-year lease. The NY Department of Buildings inspectors have investigated this situation, have interviewed Airbnb guests within the building and have slapped three sets of fines. The landlady is now facing court proceedings for her illegal conversion of residential apartments into hotel accommodations. Here’s an example of how much money she is making. One particular apartment was vacated in January 2017 with an outgoing rent of $1743. This same apartment is now being listed on Airbnb for $5483 per month. I continue to see this landlady’s listings on Airbnb. I’ve contacted Airbnb to no avail. In a building of 16 apartment units, only five apartments are occupied by leaseholders. When will this end? Airbnb has allowed building owners to turn apartments into hotel units without paying any hotel tax.

Want to Illegally Occupy an Apartment? Look no Further!

I was full of joy and hopes for the future when I booked Nadia’s apartment that she offers as “Schöne und helle Wohnung – Ideal gelegen“. I was moving to Germany for a new amazing job and made a one-month booking to have a place at the start of my contract. We had chats over the telephone and WhatsApp weeks before my trip. We talked about my new job, about holidays destinations, and about the carnivals. I was even thinking I might have found my first friend in town. How lucky!

On the first night at her place she told me I had to keep secret that I came using Airbnb. I found it fishy. During the following ten days I realised, and Nadia confirmed, that she doesn’t own the apartment and that she isn’t allowed to list it on Airbnb. Subletting and having hosts is forbidden in her tenancy agreement with the landlord. I guess Nadia loves risk, and also loves to put others at risk. To make things even more exciting, her landlord is a real estate agency that owns the whole block and whose office is in the same building. Their front door, a full see-through glass door, is located at the ground level and you have to literally walk just centimeters away from it when you go to take out the trash.

I wonder if Nadia really thinks there is a chance they won’t discover there is someone unknown living for a month there. Even though it was inevitable that I be caught by the landlord, the need to make my situation legal in Germany speeded up that process. The lovely German bureaucracy requires paperwork from hosts that have guests. Failure to complete the registration costs up to 1000€ for the party that doesn’t cooperate with the administration, whether you’re a host or guest. The landlord finally discovered the truth.

I contacted Airbnb multiple times during my registration nightmare, which lasted for twelve long days. I got answers ranging from “we only put hosts and guests in touch, and that’s it” to “here is the invoice, try to register with it.” I asked to be relocated to another place where it was legal. They said if Nadia wanted to cancel, then I could take the money and get something else. But it didn’t seem to be a problem for them that she had a listing she wasn’t allowed to have. And of course Nadia didn’t want to cancel just like that! The only moment when she wanted to cancel it and refund me, was the morning when she realised I could register providing the invoice.

The chance of a confrontation with Nadia increased exponentially. By contrast, the relationship with her landlord and neighbor was smooth and cordial. She accused me of not following the rules of the house because she says I told her landlord. In fact, it was the German bureaucracy who did, but I am happy I could have the chance to meet the real estate employee, a really nice woman. The landlord didn’t ask me to leave the apartment, but the trust had been broken with Nadia.

The impossibility to get my correspondence and the discovery that multiple keys were spread among her friends was the last thing I needed to realise Airbnb should have done something about it. A case was open and I requested to be relocated once more. All that Airbnb offered was to refund half the cost of the rest of the days not consumed. I actually only needed relocation for six nights. I had already figured a solution for later. They said with that money I could get something in Airbnb for six nights for sure. Well, this wasn’t true. The cheapest price for a night was 50% higher than my booking price. With my booking cancelled at 8:00 PM, just a morning to pack and go, and no reasonable price options at Airbnb I ended up in a hotel. It was cheaper, easier and provided warranty.