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NYC Blues, I have them

#1

Tl;dr: I have to make some changes and writing it out to an understanding audience helps me solve my dilemma… or at least clarify my options.

Splat:
Well, a local host had a long (over an hour), anonymous chat with the director in charge of all the short term housing regulations and asked him all the questions we (NYC Hosts trying to stay legal) been trying to get answered. It turns out we are illegally hosting.

Everyone thought single family homes were excluded from the laws (because, ostensibly, the rules are to prevent apartment buildings from becoming hotels), but that’s not true. Oops. (I even asked my local council member last autumn, but he never got back to me. I did try.)

And, while we’re good under all the other laws (so.many.laws), the new law (as of this February) explicitly says you can’t have more than 2 lodgers at a time in your house. Double oops.

Now, they are prioritizing the big fish and people whose neighbors have complained, but they have our data. I wasn’t illegal until this February, but they have my info now. This makes me uncomfortable.

I don’t have to go dark and hide under a rock, but I do have to make some decisions and I’d like your advice. I understand no one here is a lawyer, but you are hosts.

(Reminder, I have one “shared space” that sleeps 1, and a “private room” that sleeps 2)

  1. Choose one listing and put it to sleep, accepting no new bookings on it for the foreseeable future
  2. Go through and manually block any nights on one listing that the other is booked so I don’t cross the two guest threshold
  3. Choose one listing and cancel everything on it and close it forever amen
  4. Put both listings to sleep/close, because maybe it’s time to retire from hosting…
  5. Change nothing, we’re small fry, why would they harass us?

I could do both 1 & 2, though #2 seems like a lot of work and it won’t be enough to protect me since i’ve already had 3 guests booked at once at least twice since February, 2019.

#3 leaves a bad taste in my mouth. We have several bookings this month alone who would have to scramble to find lodging, and i’m kind of thinking why close the barn doors after the horses have fled? If they want to fine us, we’ve already unwittingly broken the law. The law doesn’t care if it’s witting or not.

#4 & 5 both seem extreme/ unnecessary/ unwise, but I don’t know.

Complicating all of this is, all of these laws assume as a matter of course that your house has a certificate of occupancy. The fact that you host more than 2 people violates the 1 family certificate.

These certificates were handed out from 1940 on. Houses that were built before then and have had no major work since don’t have certificates of occupancy. Cough. Guess who doesn’t have a COO? This girl!

We’re grandfathered in, and in many ways that protects us. In this situation… it does probably protect us, but i’m not eager to press it, you know?

We make more per night, and have a longer rentable season, from the private room… but it is much more work for less grateful guests. The shared room is easy to set up, and guests have way lower expectations. So if I were to put one listing to sleep, it would probably be the private room. Plus then my eldest could move in there and we could store some of our book collection there. (So. Many. Books.)

However, I’ve been on a budgeting kick, trying to save up and invest as much as possible so we could handle multiple financial disasters at once, and with that goal, keeping the private room is more prudent.

A sort of 6th option that gets us the most money legally but is the most disruptive to our family: separate them by season. The shared space (our porch) is basically unheated so we haven’t made it available half the year anyway. So make it official, the shared space is only available May-August, the private room is only available September- January. (No one books us January-April, because hotels are cheap then)

But ugh, I don’t think it’s worth doing that for longer than this year. If I can’t make money from it for more than 4 months, I want to take it back for my family.

I think.

Thanks for reading this far, if you have.

Wish me luck!

#2

First of all take down any exterior pictures of your home that could identify it from Google street view or even from appraisal photos. Don’t use your real name on Airbnb. Don’t give anyone any information that they could use to stalk you or look up information on you.

Then just keep doing what you’re doing. You have constitutional rights which protect you from unreasonable searches and seizures. So if someone from the city comes up and asks you if you’re doing Airbnb, you don’t have to answer. They can’t demand entry into your home. You are allowed to have visitors to your home just like anyone else in your neighborhood is and there is no permission or explanation required.

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#3

Such hard choices! If I were in your shoes, I would choose 1 &2 through the existing bookings and then keep the shared room. My reasoning is: as your oldest grows, the need for space expands and I love the So. Many. Books. They need a home too. The other reason is a quality of life issue. Since you find shared room guests to be less work and more rewarding you get to continue to make some money while sharing the experience with your family.

I’ve been thinking of buying and selling on ebay. Maybe that could be a joint project with your oldest - “letting” them store sale items in their now expanded space and learning about retail.

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#4

It seems that you’ve thought of everything. I read your post twice but I may still be confused. Maybe another option is to list both rooms as being a max of one person so you don’t go over the 2 person limit.

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#5

Hm. Yes, that could work! I’ll add that as option 7. :smiley:

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#6

And then when you inevitably get the person who wants to bring their friend with them for their one person room with a bed for two you figure it out on a case by case basis. Block the shared space or just host the second person off the books. Maybe tell them after they inquire/book that there is a second person charge of xx dollars.

Also, it’s infuriating that you have to do this. It’s one thing to remove housing/drive up rents. It’s another to have a couple of roommates who just pay for a few nights at a time via Airbnb.

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#7

I was going to suggest this as well, and I too had to read a couple of times. My only other addition is to be upfront in your listing. Advise your potential guests of the new NYC regulations and how you are doing your best to comply. What this means is that there may be certain instances that rooms may be available (or not available) as you manage through the regulations. Advise them that if there is interest, please send an inquiry.

I’d also inquire with ABNB to see if, in those instances that you would need to cancel someone because it would be against regulations, that cancellation would not impact you. I’d like to think that it wouldn’t because ABNB want to be legally compliant.

Hopefully the regulations will be modified as the kinks are ironed out.

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#8

So.Many.Laws. It always amazes me that in the Land of the Free you have so many regulations and so much bureaucracy. I remember circa 1993 Boston getting shuttled between 2 different departments trying to get a visa for a paid training program. And in trying to get a visa in 2006 being told (by an immigration lawyer!) it was best to just apply, turn up and work and deal with it if I was caught before it was granted. And so many street signs in NY! As much as I love America there is some serious disconnect between the image as a low regulation country and reality.

Perhaps you could advertise 2x1 bed rooms and point out one is a double and if someone asks say yes they can both sleep in the same bed if they want though there could still be a regulation on unmarried couples sharing a bed floating around but just chance it.

#9

A better option is to list them both and link their calendar. If one room is booked, the other automatically gets blocked.

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#10

Not a great idea as Airbnb is sharing host data with the city anyway.

1 Like
#11

I like @KKC 's suggestion. Keeps you within the law but maximises income by keeping the two listing.

Then all you would need to do with change the maximum allowed in each room to one and let the existing two people bookings run, if not too far in advance.

Good luck @Alia_Gee

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#12

Thank you, everyone! I knew I needed to hash this out with others.
For now, I’ve done exactly what KKC suggested and changed the private room to just one guest at a time. We hadn’t charged extra for a second guest before, so we don’t even lose money this way… unless it just doesn’t get booked at all.
And this morning I got a booking for an individual for that space, so I guess it’s still attractive to solo travelers. (Whew.)
I do think we will be making more changes, though: either closing the private room in September or January, and then bringing it back into family use.
Related tangent: we have a rental property in the midwest. I am looking to buy another in the same area, and there was a lovely house that I thought might work for Airbnb except it was zoned commercial. On a whim, I looked to see what the hotel laws are for Arkansas. They were only 2 pages!
On the federal level there is tons of bureaucracy, and on the coasts, but in the middle it appears to still be pretty wild!

I’m relieved to be back on the right side of the law but really frustrated that it’s been so poorly communicated to hosts. And, of course, a little nervous that after they get the big hosts they’ll retroactively find us little fish and fry me for the 4 months I wasn’t quite legal. Ugh.

Thanks for your advice and your commiseration, both helped a lot.

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