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jun 28 2010

New York Controversy: A crackdown on "no-tels"

Hundreds of New Yorkers, like others nationwide, have been making a few extra dollars by using sites such as AirBnB, Crashpadder, Roomorama, and Craigslist to sublet pullout sofas, living rooms, and whole apartments.

But that may end soon. This week, New York state senators vote on a bill that would make it illegal for any homeowner or renter to sublet for less than a month. The new law would be a blanket ban on short-term rentals no matter how ethical the renter is. (It's always been illegal to violate co-op leases and condominium bylaws.)

This proposed law is bad news for any budget traveler visiting New York City and renting one of the 3,000 spaces that go for much (much) less than the nightly rate at hotels. Cheap digs may be history.

For savvy budget-conscious travelers, short-term sublets are a "happy medium" option. They're less shady than couch surfing (where you sleep free in someone's spare room) and less complicated than vacation rentals (which come with annoying fine print and typically inflexible minimum-stay requirements). Sites like AirBnB generally offer security measures, such as holding your payment in escrow until you and the renter both meet in person and agree you're a good match. The sites also let you ask a host questions eBay-style before you book.

To be sure, some New Yorkers believe short-term rentals ruin the peaceful, secure vibe of residential buildings (because of their streams of sweaty budget travelers, presumably). Plus, renters don't always collect taxes on the cost of the rentals (clearly a no-no, but also a side issue). What's more, hotel owners hate that they're losing customers. (So, so sad!)

Unsurprisingly, while Budget Travel doesn't take political positions, I (writing personally) oppose to this law. Think about it: If you can save $150 a night on your visit to New York City, who is harmed? Who is really being hurt here by short-term sublets? Anecdotally I can say I am a quiet, clean guest, and I bet most budget-conscious travelers staying in other people's homes are, too. Property owners need to pay their taxes, of course, by filling out a W-9 form using the 1099 form that AirBnB and other companies supply. If taxation is the issue, then keep short-term rentals legal while amping-up the punishment for tax fraud.

In other words, I respect the law. I really do. Almost always. But sometimes—sometimes I ignore it. I'm smart and only jaywalk on reasonable occasions. But this new legislation sounds an awful lot like excessively strict jaywalking laws. It encourages ordinarily law-abiding people, like me, to break the law because the law is so inane. And prompting decent people to break the law is a bad thing.

Protestors have created an online petition. Others are calling the state speaker's office at 518/455-3791 to voice their opinions on Bill A10008 (in favor or against, of course).

What do you think? Should New York ban short-term rentals or allow tenants to sublet as long as they obey existing commitments to condo associations, etc.?

UPDATE

The legislation has been passed and it's up to the governor of New York to accept or veto it, reports USA Today's Laura Bly.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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