Airbnb loses ally in clash with City Council

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For Airbnb customers, there’s no sleep in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, one of the few prominent elected officials aligned with Airbnb in New York City, has pulled the welcome mat from under the home-sharing firm, endorsing legislation that could dramatically curb company’s presence here.

Adams’ decision coincided with a poll financed by the hotel workers union and lodging industry–backed Sharebetter coalition, which found 61% of New Yorkers supported the bill. The measure would obligate Airbnb to disclose to enforcement agencies the addresses of all units listed on its site.

Adams, an African-American and top 2021 mayoral contender, had previously echoed the company’s arguments that the measure would impinge upon the privacy of struggling minority homeowners renting spare rooms for extra cash. But in remarks to Crain’s, he reiterated the talking points of the Hotel Association, Hotel Trades Council and their allies in city government: that Airbnb has enabled “bad actors” to rent apartments to visitors for fewer than 30 days without a permanent tenant present, in violation of state law.

“I have been generally supportive of platforms for home sharing that allow homeowners to bring in some extra income, because people can and should be able to rent one- and two-family homes, private rooms in their apartments, as well as owner-occupied cooperatives or condominiums,” Adams said. “What cannot be allowed, what I do not support, and what we have increasingly seen, are commercial operators who make an end-run around our laws, displacing actual tenants for their own profit by illegally warehousing dozens of housing units that could be available for long-term rental.”

Adams also echoed arguments that Council Speaker Corey Johnson and the bill’s sponsor, Manhattan Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, have advanced—that the bill would enable the city to crack down on scofflaws and ease pressure on the rental housing market. The proposal would impose fines up to $25,000 on the company for each listing not registered with the city.

“Our enforcement agencies must have the basic information needed to stop illegal operators from profiting off our precious affordable-housing stock,” Adams continued. “I support Council Member Rivera’s legislation because we want to pull back the curtain on illegal commercial operations that are bastardizing what the home-sharing economy ought to be.”

Airbnb told Crain’s that it has worked internally to clamp down on unlawful rentals that use its platform, and promoted measures in Albany that would ease regulation on apartment rentals. It cast Adams’ change of heart as a betrayal of his long-declared mission, as a former NYPD captain, to ease tensions between cops and minority communities.

“But the borough president needs to understand that this bill would put the information of hosts—the vast majority of whom are not bad actors, but regular, responsible New Yorkers sharing their own space—at risk in the hands of law enforcement,” said Josh Meltzer, the company’s head of New York policy. “As someone who has championed police reform, he should understand the inherent danger of that paradigm, one that will hardly address the enforcement issues about which he feels so passionately.”

Forty of the council’s 51 members have signed on to Rivera’s legislation. Its passage appears all but inevitable.

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