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Airbnb Subject of New York City Landlord-Tenant Lawsuits

Landlords and tenants have been warring with one another over “subletting” units to Airbnb customers.

Tenants who do so are reportedly violating their lease agreements and city laws, while landlords are accused of doing the same with neighboring units, causing disturbances to long-term tenants.

Meanwhile, the city too has been filing lawsuits, seeking preliminary injunctions against home homeowners operating “illegal hotels” on the apartment-sharing website. That resulted in litigation filed against Airbnb by several unit owners alleging breach of contract for releasing purportedly private information to the city.

Basic landlord-tenant law in New York City was not written with the internet in mind – let alone ventures like Airbnb. That has left many cities – not just the Big Apple – grappling with how the law applies to this relatively new concept.

Services like Airbnb can greatly complicate the landlord-tenant relationship. When a tenant rents out a unit to someone else, he or she effectively becomes a landlord. When landlords rent out neighboring units on Airbnb, they may be violating city use agreements and the terms of the leases signed with other tenants.

It’s illegal in New York to rent out residential apartments for fewer than 30 consecutive days.

To explore some of the more recent cases:

  • Last year, an artist in a rent-stabilized Tribeca apartment was sued by her landlord who alleged she was making an enormous profit renting the unit through Airbnb. Though she paid less than $1,500 monthly for the 1,800 square-foot unit, she reportedly earned $4,500 monthly through rental sharing and short-term sublets. She reportedly told renters if questioned about their presence to indicate they were her friends. Meanwhile, she reportedly was living in an East Third Street condo with her husband. Rent stabilization is only supposed to be available to those using the property as a primary residence.
  • In October, Mayor Bill de Blasio filed a lawsuit against several apartment owners reportedly operating as “illegal hotels,” with the city obtaining preliminary injunction against owners of two residential buildings in Manhattan. Investigators claim units were rented out on a night-by-night basis on Airbnb and other rental sharing sites, which was a violation of building and fire codes. Although De Blasio hadn’t taken a strong stance on the issue until that point, he was acting on pressure from the local hospitality industry advocates.
  • Most recently, in February, two city council members introduced a measure that would allow tenants to sue landlords for using sites like Airbnb to rent out nearby apartments as illegal hotel rooms. Council members from Queens and Manhattan say when landlords utilize the service to rent out units in violation of city law, it’s a form of tenant harassment that should carry a maximum fine of up to $5,000.

In general, landlord-tenant laws are designed to balance the economic needs of the landlord with the shelter/stability needs of renters. Airbnb isn’t granted an exception to this law, but there can clearly be competing interests.

Those who find themselves entangled in a dispute over Airbnb with their landlord or tenant or with the city should contact an experienced attorney for assistance.

The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides employment litigation representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.

Additional Resources:
City council backs tenants, plans new law to sue landlords for using Airbnb, Feb. 25, 2015, By Bruce Golding, New York Post
Artist sued for ‘subletting’ apartment on Airbnb, June 6, 2014, By Julia Marsh, New York Post
More Blog Entries:
New York Commercial Lease Agreements Require Careful Review, Feb. 22, 2014, New York City Landlord Tenant Lawyer Blog