Airbnb, the hugely popular apartment rental site, has managed to amass a broad coalition of detractors in New York including developers, the State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the New York City Council, and affordable housing advocates. The main line of attack being levied against Airbnb is that it is making New York City’s affordability crisis even worse.
Critics claim that building owners and savvy real estate types are kicking out rent-paying tenants and turning their apartments into quasi hotel rooms. This, they say, is further reducing the city’s limited housing supply and driving up prices. On the legal side of things, a report from the state’s attorney general found that nearly 75 percent of Airbnb listings in New York City broke some sort of law. Airbnb did not dispute these findings largely because the attorney general’s office was going off of numbers they provided after being subpoenaed. At the time, though, a spokesperson for Airbnb told the New York Times that they wanted “some sensible rules that stop bad actors and protect regular people who simply want to share the home in which they live.” That is, more or less, the Airbnb defense: Yes, there are people taking advantage of the site, but for the most part we give hard-working folks a way to put money in their pocket.
That claim is now being directly challenged by Murray Cox, a former software engineer who lives in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. He has launched a website called Inside Airbnb that offers tools for the public to sift through all of Airbnb’s publicly available data. This, Cox said, helps expose what are essentially hoteliers renting out many apartments at once. Two hosts, for example, were found to be listing 28 units each. Inside Airbnb also found that nearly 60 percent of New York City listings are legally questionable because they cover entire homes. (In New York, it is illegal to rent out an apartment for less than 30 days if a permanent resident is not present). As mentioned earlier, Airbnb hopes to change laws like these.
In the meantime, Airbnb makes the case that it’s helping the little guy, writing on its blog that 87 percent of users rent out the home they live in. Cox isn’t buying it. “Once you look at the data, you can pretty easily see that that’s not the case,” he told USA Today. “A high proportion of the listings are highly available.”
As to be expected, Airbnb is pretty critical of Cox’s site. In a statement to Verge, Airbnb said: “We never comment on public scrapes of our information, because, like here, these scrapes use inaccurate information to make misleading assumptions about our community. Thousands of regular New Yorkers are using Airbnb everyday to help make ends meet. That’s why it is so important that we fix local laws to allow people to share the home in which they live.”