A Brooklyn broker is one of the first Airbnb hosts to be fined for listing entire apartments on the rental platform, according to the mayor's office. Broker Tatiana Cames was accused of listing five full apartments inside her brownstone at 320 Macon Street in Bed-Stuy, in violation of a new law that prohibits hosts from advertising rental units as heavy-rotation short-term stays.
Since-deleted Airbnb listings for the building describe the apartments in question as "rustic chic" and "shabby chic," according to screenshots supplied by City Hall. (According to the city, Cames paid $2.15 million for the property in May 2015.)
The city also fined landlord Hank Freid, who allegedly lists single room occupancy units inside the Marrakech Hotel on the Upper West Side for short-term stays on websites including Expedia and Orbitz.
"This is exactly who we were targeting," Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who authored the legislation, told Gothamist. "These are people who have control over more than a few units. And instead of renting them out to New Yorkers, they are renting them out to tourists."
The legislation, which applies to any illegal short-term rental advertisement regardless of the platform, hits first-time offenders with a fine of $1,000, up to $5,000 for the second violation and $7,500 for the third.
Cames received five $1,000 violations, according to the mayor's office, while Freid received 12. Each violation came with an appearance date for an Environmental Control Board hearing. If any of the listings are still posted at that date, the Office of Special Enforcement will issue $5,000 fines for each.
Rosenthal added that the fines were set high "so it wouldn't just be a sting, it would be painful."
Renting out an entire apartment for a stay shorter than 30 days was against the law for most New York City hosts well before Rosenthal's legislation passed. But the law has done little to dissuade New York City hosts from advertising short term stays—a recent data dump from Airbnb revealed that over half of NYC Airbnb users advertise this way. There were 39,553 listings city-wide as of October 1st of last year, according to Inside Airbnb.
Neither Cames nor an attorney for Freid could be reached for comment. [See update below.] However, Cames appears to have removed her 320 Macon Street listings from the platform. Ronald Rosenberg, an attorney for Freid, told the NY Post that the fines were a "misapplication of the law" and that his client will "fight the violations in court."
Cames's Airbnb listings described Bed-Stuy as a neighborhood that, though "historically" African-American and West Indian, has recently drawn a more "diverse" crowd—an apparent selling point. From one listing:
Bedford-Stuyvesant is a wonderful close-knit community. Historically African-American and West Indian, the neighborhood is abound with great shops and restaurants celebrating this heritage. The architectural landscape of Bed Stuy has attracted newcomers who have made the neighborhood home and has added diversity to the culture of the neighborhood and its offerings.
In the cases of both Cames and Freid, allegedly-illegal listings prompted further OSE investigations, which turned up further violations. At 320 Macon, inspectors found that the four-unit building had been converted into six units without proper permits, and that apartments lacked adequate egress, fire alarms, and sprinklers. Investigators also came across three tourists from France in a rear apartment on the third floor, according to the city.
Building code violations were also discovered at the Marrakesh Hotel and will be issued this week.
Airbnb has pushed back against the new advertising rule, arguing that it will hit the wallets of middle class New Yorkers who rent out entire apartments occasionally, in violation of state law. The company has also said that it can self-regulate, having recently removed 2,223 listings from its platform over concerns they might be affiliated with illegal hotel operators.
"Our opposition to the advertising law has always been that it unfairly exposes New Yorkers who share their home responsibly to large fines," a spokesman for the company told Gothamist. "We have long said that we support measures to crack down on bad actors who operate multiple listings, and we look forward to working collaboratively with the city to find a sensible method of enforcement."
"Last week marked the start of our enforcement efforts against bad actors under the new State law that bars advertising of illegal short-term rentals," said mayoral spokeswoman Melissa Grace. "We will continue to use this law, and other enforcement tools, to protect New Yorkers and visitors alike."
[Update 2/7]: Cames denied the allegation from the city that 320 Macon Street had been illegally converted. "There was no illegal conversion whatsoever," she said. "The layouts are exactly as filed, approved and signed off."
"Inspectors coerced their way into the building with no proper warrant and were not interested in the actual facts," Cames added. "They had already made up their mind to give us violations and ignore the facts."
A complaint filed last July to the DOB alleges an illegal conversion; all approved renovations on the property do not include an alteration to building occupancy. We will update with any additional comment from the city.