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Jan 14

Legalize Short Rentals in Private Residences in the World

Legalize short rentals in private residences in the World

ABOUT: New York, City Hall,  “the Committee on Housing and Buildings. Oversight: Short Term Rentals- Stimulating the Economy or Destabilizing Neighborhoods?”

Today, January 20, 2015  I went to the City Hall to attend to “the Committee on Housing and Buildings.

Oversight: Short Term Rentals- Stimulating the Economy or Destabilizing Neighborhoods?” When I arrived to City Hall around 9.15 there were two lines to enter: one in favor and one against short rentals. People in one line weared yellow dots and in the other, Airbnb stickers. At that time, “the yellow dots” where union hotel workers. Through the morning this line changed character and carried signs requesting affordable housing, or against Airbnb (crossing out the sign: “Airbnb is good for New York…“I don’t want to live in a hotel”) . After one hour waiting I asked the policeman by the gate if there was an entry for an independent person, not as a group. The answer was no. The Airbnb line was a mix of individuals operating in a total different scale: residents renting their own place (their apartment while the stay in the countryside or a second room in their apartment for two people max a few weeks a year) and those who manage or own many units separated from their residence and that they rent to tourist (an owner of five apartments in the same building renting each to up to 10 people at the time, or a house owner renting 8 rooms).

In what I saw, there was no trace of the subtitle “Stimulating the Economy or Destabilizing Neighborhoods?”. Outside there were two lines, but it seems to me that the situation was far more complex that against or in favor of short rentals:

1. The big changes in a neighborhood happen with the city’s large scale re-zoning not with a few residents renting their apartments for a week a month. In the case of Green Point it was from industrial to residential. In the case of Chinatown and the LES, it is changing height limits. The only thing that is stable in those freshly re-zoned areas are the old tenants who manage to stay and that have to partially rents their apartments to afford the cost of the neighborhoods due to the new developments.

You might want to believe that a few residents renting their apartment for a week are changing the city and ignore the big picture: high-rise of twenty floors are booming in an area that the max was six floors, entire blocks of buildings with rent stabilized apartment have been bough out for by developers. Operations happen in large scale  (re-zoning, developers) and then it affects what happens on the small scale (renting one room or the apartment for visitors).  One example is the corner where I live in Chinatown, from my window I can see what wasn’t there five years a go, at the corner between Hester and Christy, one hotel and another on the corner with Bowery, twenty floors up. In the same block, four buildings have been bought up by one single developer in one year (tenants got push and paid to leave). Tourism start coming to the area and residents leaving and the ones who stay need to rent their apartments to be able to pay the more expensive rent and groceries in their same neighborhood. People renting their apartments in a neighborhood that is undergoing a development is the consequence of destabilization and not its cause. http://www.wnyc.org/series/whos-buying-new-york/

2.The law for short rentals should recognize the difference between survival and business and between resident’s rental or hosting and commercial rental or agent.

In many other cases, the use of domestic space to get income is legal. For instance, one individual can baby-sit in their home up to five kids (this is different from running a day care). For long time, people have rented a spare room to one or two students and provide room and board. Making use of the space for extra income or working in the home is not illegal, therefore there is no point in just making hosting illegal. On the contrary, there is a need to frame and legally define hosting ruling (restricting the numbers or procedure). There is a license to host?

In New York, with a few exceptions, people are poor. Beside a few trades, medical, finance and constructions and civil service, that are stable a few other well-paid position, most of the people are making less money that they were ten years ago or have lost their main job and this are why they rent their houses or room in their houses.

It was also common to sublet your apartment when on vacation. The “not renting under 30 days laws”, go against those residents that go away for a week on vacation and want to sublet their apartment. Why I cannot sublet my apartment if I only have two weeks vacation a year or if I travel for work for a week often? In addition, the “not renting under 30 days laws” put in risk any tenant subletting for a month, since over 29 days is considered a resident.

Maximizing your resources (the principle of sharing economy) should be distinguished from exploiting. All these cases are samples are micro-economy. In Italy, in the coast with a tradition of tourism, there are two ways of having tourists: survival (resident, up to 5 people) and business (regular hotels).

Beyond the number there is a quality’s difference. There is a difference between hosting in your own home when you are a resident and renting an apartment that is not where you live. Most residents renting their homes, pre-screen visitors and reject some, to make sure their home and the building don’t suffer from it. At the same time they take personalized care of the guests: if they are on vacation, give them info about the area, let them use their bike if they are there for work, provide info about sources that they need.

3. The world has changed. People have to travel for work. The world is mobile and unstable.

A lot of people are freelance who works on project basis, they travel to present a project or to put a project together. When they travel, they need a place where they feel at home. When they are away to cover the cost of accommodation, they rent their apartment to other people in their same position.

There is a difference between renting and hosting; renting only offer a service, hosting also creates a network. Feeling at home implies that the place is affordable and domestic but also that they have an access to the city, someone who can guide them, usually this is what a host will do. Micro economy, of people renting their houses is very efficient based, not only in money but also in knowledge. Having the possibility to stay in another person home and get to their sources, the guest has first entry to the city. It is not only about a good restaurant, it is about being able to know where to get the things when one is away from home. In this way, it is very different from renting an apartment through an agent or staying in a hotel, this is hosting. The principle of share economy is to maximize resources, have information of others to build a community even if it is a community of strangers.

Even if all of us would like to have a stable job (9 to 5 with a boss and a salary) not all of us cannot get one, because there are not that many. Much work is subcontracted as freelance.  The job market has change and this is a reality.

4. Guests that stay in the low cost resident’s apartments in New York are a cultural stimulus for a city. To be able to rent a room or apartment for short time and for low prices is a way to allow the flow of thinkers, artists and freelancers in general who cannot afford hotel rates.

Half of the people renting in private residents are freelancers, many of them work on culture and art. They are not tourists, they came to the city to do work (a ecologist coming to new York for a conference, a composer for a fashion show, a philosopher to lecture etc.). MoMa, PS1, the Kitchen and other not for profit use airbnb when looking for an affordable place to have a guest artist while doing a show. I am talking about MoMA, very important, right!  and still they can only invite people under a budget. These people are of a huge importance in the life of New York now, they bring fresh blood to the city. These visitors are not only stimulating an economy but mostly stimulating a city. Other ways New York, will be a “resort” for tourist, a paradise for the rich living in condos.

Remember the seventies and the logo “ I LOVE NEW YORK”. New York got famous for artists from all over the world coming to New York. Once the myth is created, real estate value rises because of the myth. These people coming to cultural, art and fashion exchanges are not just shoppers…. They made the myth of the New York.

Visitors on a budget, travelers, will not have come to New York without the possibility of renting from a resident. The kind of people that use these accommodations, renting from residents, is not competition to a hotel, they would be unable to travel other ways. They bring diversity and fresh eyes, they bring experiences to the city, they still keep the idea of traveling: a cultural exchange.

MESSAGE: scale matters, legalize home sharing, penalize residential buildings run as hotels in New York. Thank you for taking the time in reading this. I am writing in the trust that you can work out policies that recognize complexity. My very best:

Jana Leo

Independent researcher (PhD Philosophy, Master in Architecture), Director of Fundacion Mosis, Modelos y Sistemas; Arte y Ciudad

Letter sent to Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General

State of New York, Office of the Attorney Genera, The Capitol, Albany, NY 12224

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