Judge tosses Airbnb’s attempt to block NYC’s strict new rental rules

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By Dan Sears

It’s about to get harder to find an Airbnb in New York City.

A state judge on Tuesday dismissed a pair of lawsuits from the bookings behemoth and three hosts who sought to block strict new regulations on tens of thousands of short-term listings.

The ruling allows New York City to require owners of short-term rental properties to register them with the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement under a 2022 law. The measure, known as Local Law 18, also allows property owners and managers to add residences to a “prohibited building list,” which the city will provide to listings platforms to block payment at those addresses.

Airbnb called the law a “de facto ban” on listings of less than 30 days and said the new rules would eliminate 95% of its $85 million revenue in New York City. Three hosts filed a separate lawsuit arguing the ban would hurt their own finances.

But Judge Arlene Bluth said the registration requirements “make perfect sense” and called the platform’s arguments “entirely speculative.” Bluth cited statistics from the city indicating they received nearly 12,000 complaints and issued more than 15,600 violations about short-term rentals from 2017 to 2021.

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“Clearly, [city officials] have identified a major problem — the continued prevalence of illegal short-term rentals,” she wrote in her ruling.

Housing advocates say short-term listings squeeze the city’s limited supply of permanent homes. Under existing city law, rentals of less than 30 days are allowed only if the owner or tenant is present during the guest’s stay. The rule means that in most cases, it’s illegal to rent out whole apartments..

New York City has more than 40,000 Airbnb listings, with about a quarter booked on a regular basis. Policymakers estimate that up to 10,000 listings are illegal under current laws.

Bluth acknowledged the city’s “glacial pace” for processing applications, but criticized Airbnb for not sharing the upcoming requirements with hosts. City officials say they plan to begin enforcement on Sept. 5.

“As the regulations relate to Airbnb, they give Airbnb a very simple way to make sure it is no longer facilitating – and making money from – unlawful activity,” she said. “All Airbnb has to do is properly verify potential listings.”

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Airbnb and the hosts who sued the city immediately slammed the ruling, and the city’s prohibition on thousands of short-term listings.

“The city’s rules go after regular New Yorkers instead of illegal hotel operators,” said Debbie Greenberger, an attorney for the hosts.

Airbnb Global Policy Director Theo Yedinsky said New York’s restrictions “are a blow to its tourism economy” and residents who earn extra money renting out their homes.

“The city is sending a clear message to millions of potential visitors who will now have fewer accommodation options when they visit New York City: you are not welcome.”

But supporters of the laws hailed Bluth’s ruling. Tom Cayler, the chair of the “illegal hotel committee” for the group Westside Alliance, helped craft Local Law 18 and said it merely makes it possible for New York City to enforce existing laws against short-term rentals.

He said he expected the case to drag on, with Airbnb likely to appeal the decision.

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The Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement did not respond to a request for comment.

This story has been updated to clarify what the New York City law around short-term rentals entails.

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