By Sabina Mollot
In October, Governor Cuomo signed a law that will impose steep fines on Airbnb hosts who break local housing regulations. The short-term rental listings giant sued over the law though the company recently settled with the city of New York once it was made clear that hosts and not Airbnb were the target.
Short-term rentals in apartments were already illegal in many cases in New York City if the stay is under 30 days and the apartment’s tenant of record isn’t also staying there. Additionally, the practice also violates lease terms at some properties, including Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, though this hasn’t stopped tenants from listing their homes on Airbnb and other sites.
In recent years, this has been a worry for tenants who are concerned about problems like the spread of bedbugs as well as safety in an environment where they don’t know who’s staying next door. Four years ago when there was an uptick of bedbug sightings in the complex, then Tenants Association President John Marsh suspected that might be the reason. At one point, representatives from the ST-PCV Tenants Association and management met with representatives from Airbnb. The meeting resulted in the company agreeing to issue a pop-up notice on its website stating that rentals are illegal if the site’s user tries to advertise a Stuy Town or Peter Cooper address.
Yet, the practice has persisted.
Recently, Town & Village spoke with Stuy Town’s General Manager and StuyTown Property Services CEO Rick Hayduk about short-term rentals and how the owner has been trying to stop people from doing it. While Hayduk declined to discuss the new legislation, he said the property’s public safety and legal departments had already been focused on the issue.
“We have resources dedicated to the eradication of short-term usage of the property,” he said.
When asked if listings popped up often enough for management to consider it a real problem, Hayduk this was difficult to say. At any given time management’s checked, there have been “a handful that we have identified,” he said. This is despite some tenants describing their neighborhood as Gramercy or the East Village rather than Stuyvesant Town.
“They’re getting very creative,” Hayduk said. “But the pictures — we know our apartments. So we go to social media to follow the paper trail for people’s reviews. We find the apartment and we notify the tenant they’re in violation of the lease.”
It helps that there’s a designated public safety officer who monitors vacation rental listings on Airbnb, Craigslist and other websites.
According to Hayduk, if a tenant is suspected of this behavior, he or she will first get a warning letter from the legal department. “More than four times out of five, when we send out notices from SPS counsel, the problem goes away.
“But,” he added, “If someone is bold enough to be a repeat offender, counsel will call them.”
After that, one option for management is to go to housing court, but so far Hayduk said that hasn’t been necessary. He also isn’t aware of any tenants who appeared to be making their living renting out their units.
In the instances where tenants are breaking the law — and now potentially facing steep fines — Hayduk said he believes most of the time, this is due to ignorance of the law as well as the lease regulations.
“There are people who know they’re not supposed to do it, but they’re in the minority,” Hayduk said. “They haven’t read the house rules, and think, ‘I’m not going to be in the apartment for a period of time…’ I think a lot of the times it’s ignorance.”
Hayduk said he wasn’t sure how many of the offenders are rent stabilized vs. market rent since that’s not something that was being counted.
Sub-letting apartments can be done legally, although tenants are still not allowed to sub-let for shorter stays than 30 days and also they’re not allowed to charge more than 110 percent of their rent. The ten percent surcharge, Hayduk explained, is because the apartments are furnished. In the case of the short-term rentals, he has seen some people charging more than that amount, though.
Meanwhile, Hayduk said as far as he knows, those who’ve still succeeded in renting out their homes for short-term stays have not led to problems like spreading bedbugs. But the belief persists, he said, adding that at one point, a rumor when there was an infestation in one building was that an apartment was being used as an illegal hotel. However, it turned out the blood-sucking pests came from an apartment whose longterm inhabitant was a hoarder.
Additionally, he noted, appearances can be deceiving, like some tenants who may be seen frequently toting around luggage.
“From our standpoint, it’s not a volume issue,” Hayduk said. “It’s more of a perception issue. Are they disruptive, the short-term rentals? Bottom line is we don’t see it as a nuisance as much as it is a violation of one’s lease.
“In our environment, a rent-stabilized property, it’s already illegal. This is why we approach it the way we do.”
Susan Steinberg, president of the Tenants Association, said she has hardly gotten any complaints lately from neighbors about short-term rentals.
She wasn’t thrilled, however, to see Airbnb advertise its services for last month’s marathon in the city.
“It’s encouragement for tenants to game the system, in my humble opinion,” said Steinberg, “and it’s a way for Airbnb to flout the law.”