Hostel bill aims to combat illegal short-term rentals

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

New legislation from a Queens Councilmember about hostels may provide residents weary of transients with some relief.

Councilman Mark Weprin introduced legislation this month that would legalize the construction, regulation and operation of licensed youth hostels in commercial districts throughout the city.

City Councilmember Margaret Chin, who represents the Lower East Side, is cosponsoring the legislation and said she hopes that hostels will take some of the pressure off of residential areas flooded with illegal rentals.

“Opening fully legal and licensed youth hostels will allow young people to enjoy the hostel experience without ending up in an illegal short-term rental, which can be unsafe and cause quality of life problems for residents of my Lower Manhattan district and all across the city,” she said.

The legislation would allow for the construction of hostels only in commercial areas, in order to prevent illegal hotel activity in residential areas already overwhelmed by temporary subletters.

The city does not presently have a law that legalizes youth hostels. Former Assemblyman Jerry Kremer, who is an advocate for youth hostels, explained that legislation passed by Governor David Patterson in 2010 eliminating Single Room Occupancy (SRO) entities had the downside of eliminating hostels.

The SRO legislation states that apartment owners have to be present if they are renting out a room and because there was never a specific hostel license, those businesses operating as hostels were actually SROs and were subsequently forced to close.

Kremer said that many of the businesses still operating in the city who say they’re hostels are actually more like hotels.

“The point of the legislation is to create a legal and safe location for young people to go,” he said. “Young people can’t afford $190 a night. Hostels have bunk beds and the price to rent can be as low as $55 a night.”

Councilmember Weprin also noted that the global youth travel sector is valued at $320 billion by 2020 and he hopes that the legislation will help direct some of that revenue to New York. Hostelworld.com, an international travel reservations service provider focused on the hostel accommodations, estimates the market for hostel bookings in New York City would add $178 million annually in spending on accommodations.

“The whole idea is that this hostel law would drain away a lot of business from Airbnb,” Kremer added. “It would give the city a weapon against illegal rentals.”

Councilmember Rosie Mendez, who was not able to comment on this specific legislation before T&V’s press time, has previously introduced legislation to address issues that tenants are having in buildings that have essentially been converted into hotels.

Mendez explained that there are a number of complaints about buildings in her district where short-term renters come in at all hours of the night, creating noise from foot traffic and impacting the quality of life for many residents. Her legislation would define these disruptions as a form of tenant harassment and would allow tenants to sue their landlords.

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