Airbnb should give law enforcement the tools they need to keep our communities safe

Airbnb should give law enforcement the tools they need to keep our communities safe

Airbnb should give law enforcement the tools they need to keep our communities safe
August 17, 2017

Numerous independent analyses and studies have demonstrated the central role Airbnb has played in exacerbating the affordable housing crisis in New York City. However, another serious issue has received far less scrutiny and is as big a threat to our communities: the public safety risks posed by illegal hotels on Airbnb and other online platforms.

It’s time for a closer look at a ballooning crisis that’s been hiding in plain site, until now. 

Despite Airbnb having more than 40,000 listings in New York City, public safety protocols for Airbnb and other illegal hotels are nearly non-existent. They don’t follow essential security procedures adhered to by legal lodging establishments, and have steadfastly refused to provide basic information to law enforcement and regulators, such as the addresses of their listings. This lack of transparency allows thousands of transient renters to gain unfettered access to residential buildings, creating a preventable danger to our communities.

Just last month, there were illegal hotel complaints in 153 residential buildings, where nearly 50 fire department violations were issued over the past year. And in the first quarter of 2017, there were 972 complaints to the NYPD connected to the blocks that these buildings are located on.  

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Whether it's the shootings at an Airbnb rental in Queens, the fire that occurred at an illegal hotel in Manhattan or the recent bombing in Manchester, England where the terrorist used a short-term rental he rented through a local online realtor as his base of operation, we cannot ignore these growing public safety risks. These challenges require that we create transparency and provide law enforcement with the most effective tools to do everything in their power to keep us safe and respond to threats.

Cities across the country, like San Francisco, Chicago, and New Orleans have all recognized the need to better equip enforcement officials with the tools they need to protect both the affordable housing supply and safety of their communities by putting in place strict regulations requiring short-term rental platforms to provide addresses for their listings to city officials. This data gives these cities the information they need to respond to any potential security issues as they arise, and bring these rentals into compliance with the existing safety standards. It’s common sense. 

However, here in New York City, Airbnb’s aggressive resistance to transparency has put our regulators and law enforcement officials in the dark about where these 40,000 short-term rentals are located and who is staying in them. New York shouldn’t be held to a lesser standard than other major cities; we should be setting the standard for sensible regulations. And most New Yorkers agree, as demonstrated by a recent poll where, after being presented with arguments both in favor and opposed to requiring Airbnb to provide addresses to law enforcement officials, 63 percent of New York City residents said they supported such a requirement. 

While the most obvious solution would be for Airbnb to voluntarily share its addresses with city enforcement agencies, it has staunchly resisted such efforts, despite requests of this information from the New York attorney general and the deputy mayor of New York City for housing. 

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Airbnb’s lack of transparency and refusal to provide addresses is clearly a ploy to shield their army of illegal commercial operators and the millions of dollars they generate for Airbnb, from exposure to penalties for breaking the law. We cannot let them continue to put the profits of illegal operators above the safety of our homes and neighborhoods. 

To combat the wave of commercial operators converting tens of thousands of residential housing units into illegal hotels, lawmakers recently stepped up with tough regulations to protect our affordable housing supply. Now it’s time to address the public safety problems posed by illegal hotels and for Airbnb to cooperate.

We know Airbnb, which holds numerous data points about hosts and listings on their site, can easily identify the illegal listings. But we also know they have never shown the willingness to clean up their act. That’s why I have introduced legislation to preserve the safety and stability of our communities by requiring Airbnb to disclose the addresses of their listings to enforcement officials. They do it in Chicago, San Francisco, and New Orleans, so why won’t Airbnb do so in New York?

I encourage my colleagues in the Legislature to make sure that New York City joins the many cities across the United States and abroad by equipping police, firefighters and other regulators and enforcement officials with the tools they need to make sure that short-term rentals don’t imperil hosts, renters and residents of our neighborhoods. 

And, once again, I challenge Airbnb to put public safety before profit. Sharing the addresses of their rental locations is a start. If there’s nothing to hide, they should prove it by complying.

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal represents the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Linda Rosenthal