From 2015 to 2019, the alleged scheme earned more than $5 million in revenue through Airbnb for booking 24,330 rooms and housing 63,873 guests in what the city describes as dangerous and unsanitary conditions.
Before the building was partially shuttered by the city of New York in May for being, among other things, “imminently perilous” to people or property, more than 2,600 guests had booked a stay in the townhouse through Airbnb for a total of 2,268 nights, earning its host over $210,000, according to Airbnb data released by the city.
A May visit from a New York City Department of Buildings inspector revealed the building had been illegally converted into 12 rooms, four squeezed onto each floor, equipped with a total of 24 beds for nightly rental, according to a summons filed by the inspector. On Airbnb, the shoddily assembled living spaces were described with appealing titles like "Newly Renovated Apt Next to East River, NYC View!" ($195 per night) or "Clean and Comfy Room With Balcony, 15min to NYC!" ($100 per night). However, in reviews some guests described them as “packed with garbage,” “broken furniture,” and plagued by ants, centipedes, and black mold.
“During our stay, there was knocking on the door periodically from 1 am until 8 am, and, since we had been instructed to not answer the door under any circumstances, we were left to an incredibly unrestful sleep,” wrote one guest at an apartment on West 136th Street. “[The host] is putting people in a very uncomfortable and rather questionable situation in this apartment and I would not recommend.”
Airbnb wants to operate more freely in its largest market. City officials want to constrain home-sharing platforms, which they argue exacerbate New York’s housing shortage by incentivizing owners to convert residences into de facto hotels. Similar debates are playing out in popular tourist destinations around the country as local governments struggle to keep up with the growing popularity of short-term rental companies.