Letters to the Editor, Oct. 17

Why are short-term renters targets for A.G.?

Re: “Airbnb won’t cooperate with A.G. investigation,” T&V, Oct. 10

To the Editor:

I am intrigued that Eric Schneiderman decided to prioritize investigating Airbnb. Wasn’t he supposed to be prosecuting the banksters responsible for our continuing economic disaster? Come to think of it, where are those indictments?

Rich people don’t sublet their homes for short periods. Middle-class homeowners and renters do. There may be some nefarious businesspeople subletting to even lurkier subtenants on Airbnb, but I’m pretty sure most of the people using Airbnb to make money or have a place to stay are ordinary middle class people. Some people rent out their apartments because they have lost jobs and are traveling, looking for work. Others are having difficulty paying their monthly costs due to stagnating wages combined with continually rising co-op maintenance fees and endless assessments.

Again, the rich don’t have these troubles. Should middle-class homeowners be forced to sell their apartments or incur credit problems because of temporary financial setbacks?

I can’t sublet my apartment on Airbnb due to the fact I store confidential materials here, but if that wasn’t an issue I probably would occasionally sublet it.

I have fond memories of the “illegal” sublet I rented as a young graduate student in 1990. If that apartment hadn’t been available, I never would have been able to live in Manhattan, close to my school and internship. Again, this type of issue is not a problem for the rich — only for the middle class.

Schneiderman and Liz Krueger might want to think about the fact that most of the middle-class people who sublet on Airbnb in New York are registered Democrats…

Sincerely,

Anne Rettenberg,
Kips Bay

Sukkah in park not unconstitutional

Re: Letter, “Sukkah doesn’t belong in public park,” T&V, Oct. 10

To the Editor:

The writer who objects to sukkahs in public parks has gone beyond the facts in stating, “the Constitution espouses the separation of church and state.”

The First Amendment forbids legislating, “an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and Article VI forbids a religious test for holding federal office. An establishment of religion, the thing forbidden, is a requirement that all citizens worship God in the manner of only one religion and must contribute to its financial support.  Allowing the free exercise of religion means that every citizen may choose to worship God, or not, in the manner he or she deems right, and in doing so may exercise all the other First Amendment freedoms — of speech, the press and peaceable assembly.

The Constitution mandates freedom for religion, not freedom from religion.

Yet Mendy Weitbaum may have exceeded these rights, in the same way one would by erecting a personal sign in a public park suggesting, “Drink Coca-Cola,” or “Fly American Airlines.” Yet, if he did exceed his rights, it’s because of erecting a symbol of his personal preferences, not because the symbol is a religious one.

Don Murray, ST

Re: Letter, “Sukkah doesn’t belong in public park,” T&V, Oct. 10

The phrase, “separation of church and state” is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson used it in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 to assure them that the state of CT would not interfere with their religious practices.

James Madison said the purpose of the First Amendment was to prohibit Congress from establishing a national religion. Just because someone doesn’t want to see a sukkah, a cross, or anything else in a public park doesn’t make it unconstitutional, so the rabbi can put up a sukkah anywhere he wants.

Thank you for your consideration.

Joan Carmody,  PCV

‘Interesting’ owners

They have three transients in every eight apartments; they send you reminder notices on the day they’ve cashed your check; they inspect your apartment to insure that you’re using your 22-year-old refrigerator; two of five washing machines in a laundry room meant for over 100 apartments are unplugged. They hang padding 24/7 in elevators that rent stabilized tenants have paid for so transients can readily move in and out. They are the most interesting landlords in the world.

Name withheld, ST

Advertisements

Airbnb won’t cooperate with A.G. investigation

State Senator Liz Krueger authored an illegal hotels law.

State Senator Liz Krueger authored an illegal hotels law.

By Sabina Mollot

Airbnb, a company that reps from the ST-PCV Tenants Association and property management have met with in an attempt to keep tenants from illegally renting out their homes to strangers for short-term stays, is now refusing to cooperate with an investigation by the attorney general.

In an official statement on its website, Airbnb had this to say in response to news reports about the investigation, which seeks to subpoena information about the company’s users.

“We always want to work with governments to make the Airbnb community stronger, but at this point, this demand is unreasonably broad and we will fight it with everything we’ve got,” the company wrote in a blog post. The statement went on to say that its “host” users were “everyday New Yorkers who occasionally share the home in which they live.”

The statement comes on the heels of a court victory for Airbnb, in which it was successfully able to argue that an East Village resident who used its service to rent out his apartment didn’t break any laws because a tenant of record was at home during the time a paying guest stayed there.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman did not respond to a request for comment on the investigation, which was first reported in Crain’s.

Airbnb, however, also said it would “continue conversations” with the A.G. to “to see if we can work together to support Airbnb hosts and remove bad actors from the Airbnb platform. We are confident we can reach a solution that protects your personal information and cracks down on people who abuse the system.”

Despite the encouraging promise, Airbnb’s response when it comes to illegal hosting has been noncommittal in the past, at least where ST/PCV is concerned. ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh had previously asked that he company no longer allow any postings that involve any of the property’s 110 addresses.

A spokesperson for Airbnb offered to answer T&V’s questions, but then didn’t respond when asked if any policy was changed in regards to ST/PCV, where a couple of years ago, management had to crackdown on widespread short-term hosting. Some room-and-board arrangements were made by other sites like Craig’s List and Roomorama, but mainly listings for short-term rentals were found on Airbnb.

The problem does appear to have subsided since then though. This week, a scroll through the site only revealed a few listings for apartments that were obviously located in ST/PCV apartments, and they included one request for a long-term guest as well as a couple of listings offering a room rather than the entire apartment.

A spokesperson for CWCapital did not respond to a question about how management’s investigation into illegal hotel activity was going, but Marsh said CW had last left the TA with the impression that it was continuing to pursue offenders. Marsh also said the TA hadn’t gotten any recent complaints abut illegal hotel activity.

It was in 2010 when a law, authored by State Senator Liz Krueger, was passed that made it illegal for apartments in most types of residential buildings to be rented out for stays shorter than 30 days.

Following Airbnb’s recent court win, Krueger responded to the company’s claim that it would work to weed out those who abuse its system that matches travelers with apartments, rather than hotels to stay in.

“One easy way for them to help is to specifically explain the state and city laws relating to this activity on their website,” she said in an official statement, “and have clear guidelines pop up as a splash page whenever a host is listing a unit in New York City or a guest is looking at NYC listings. After all, a tenant may see this as an easy way to make some fast cash, and clearly Airbnb is taking a cut, but the building owner has rights too and faces most of the liability if things go wrong.”

She added that if “Airbnb wants to remove bad actors, they should require their hosts to provide addresses and apartment numbers. Making clear what is and is not legal in a community is the best way to ensure fewer people will unknowingly break the law, risking eviction from their homes and/or fines from the government.”

Krueger spokesperson Andrew Goldston added that while the law was intended to weed out the worst of the offenders, those who have made illegal hotels a business rather than an occasional way to earn cash, any bookings at all are still illegal in many buildings and the feeling of the senator is that Airbnb “is trying to draw a broad line that’s very convenient for them.”