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Using Airbnb is now a crime in New York City

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Airbnb is a fantastic option for travelers who prefer short-term apartment rentals to hotels because they’re more affordable and offer more integration into city neighborhoods. And it’s also a great way to earn a little extra cash if you have room for a traveler but you’re struggling with the bills. There’s a reason why it’s a beloved service – but it can put its users on shaky legal grounds in many places, and New York is no exception.

So naturally New York is trying to crush it mercilessly. An Airbnb host named Nigel Warren has to pay $2,400 for violating a 2011 state law that makes it illegal to rent out a property for less than 29 days. The court originally asked Warren to pay $7,000, so it’s not as bad as it could’ve been. Airbnb tried to help Warren with the case, which makes sense because New York is a huge market for the company and if hosts keep getting penalized like this, they’re going to lose a ton of business. According to Craine’s New York, New York City Airbnb transactions are expected to total around $1 billion in 2013, so the loss of that market will be devastating to Airbnb, and to the people who host, and to the people who save a lot of money by staying in an Airbnb space. 

The 2011 law tries to prevent people from buying up buildings and turning them into hotels without going through the zoning and coding rigamarole required for getting into the hotel industry. While Warren and Airbnb may have violated the letter of the law, they clearly did not violate the spirit, and the law should be amended — something Airbnb is pursuing, by hiring lobbyists to go to Albany.

There are over 22,000 Airbnb listings in New York City, and if you’re a resident with an account, don’t freak out just yet, nobody’s going around in an Airbnb sting. The law is only enforced if someone files a complaint to the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement. With the Warren case, they’re not sure who filed one, but he obviously made an enemy who hates affordable vacations.

So if you plan on making extra cash through Airbnb in New York, make sure no one files a complaint against you – or you’re likely to end up in court.