Since their conception in 2008, Airbnb has risen up the ranks of the hospitality industry to provide easy accommodations to travelers across the world. However, is the process too easy to abuse? While I’ve personally had a positive experience as a guest, countless landlords across the US are developing the opposite impression after discovering their residents illegally subleasing.
The problem has grown nationwide as these residents’ subleasing has begun to affect the multifamily housing industry. Even college students are renting out their spare dorm beds on Airbnb, sneaking their guests past campus security and their ever-watchful resident advisors.
The most outstanding Airbnb host scandal of late involves two residents in Queens who have turned their 3 bedroom apartment into 10 bedrooms and have been subleasing their additional beds on the Airbnb website. While the landlord has discovered the renovations from neighbors, he’s been having difficulties evicting his residents and their Airbnb guests. After angrily bringing in his own workmen to tear down the sheetrock room dividers, changing the locks, and kicking his residents out, according to USA Today, the two residents filed a court order and are back in the apartment. The New York landlord hopes to properly evict the residents with the aid of a lawyer, meanwhile the two residents have put up cloth dividers and are continuing to rent out their extra rooms online.
Alongside this scandal, New York has had a difficult time handling residents subleasing on Airbnb. According to the gothamist, “55% of Airbnb’s users are renting out their entire apartments while they’re gone, rather than a single room when their present, which for most residents is against the law.” Airbnb’s NYC data report isn’t as bad as Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s report on Airbnb last year, which condemned the company for having 72% of all transactions violating state law. That being said, it appears that the majority of Airbnb hosts in New York are indeed breaking the law. California has even enacted a new law for 2016 (SB 761) that will require Airbnb and other online websites to inform their users that illegally subletting might cause them to be evicted.
“Landlords need to know who they’re putting in their building. This is a duty to not only themselves but their neighbors” says eviction attorney Stephen Duringer, Est., founder of the Duringer Law Group. To protect yourself from the possibility of unlawful subletting, you should review the following:
While the New York landlord hopes that he can finally evict his residents on the fact that their lease prohibits them from making “repairs or alterations,” by including additional clauses to your lease, you insure that if you do discover Airbnb guests in your rental then you have a right to evict your current residents. Add clauses to your lease that specify the number of occupants, prohibit subletting without the written permission of the landlord (you), and state that your resident’s guests will have a certain number of days (let’s say two weeks) until they are required to be on the lease. If you’re completely against your residents using Airbnb or other sites to sublet, or just want to make your residents aware that listing on these sites without subletting permission is illegal, you could even include it in your house rules.
Physical and Online Checks
If you’re worried that your current residents might be subletting your property on Airbnb or other sites, then double check physically and online. Drive by your rental occasionally and talk to your residents. If you often see guests toting luggage, then you definitely have reason to suspect your residents might be subleasing. Additionally, check the online website itself. If you recognize your property on Airbnb or other sites, confront your residents.
While you should definitely be warry of your residents illegally listing your property on Airbnb, you shouldn’t throw subleasing under the bus completely. For Chris Dannen, subleasing his rented apartment on Airbnb was his solution to finding short-term roommates. Rather than relying on Craigslist’s anonymous and often unfruitful roommate boards, he utilized Airbnb’s payment structure, property protection, and open community to find people to live with. While many unknowingly sublet illegally, as long as they get written consent by their landlord (you) as per the lease the action no longer becomes illegal. Your resident becomes accountable for the damages their Airbnb guest commits and the extra income they gain through guests assures that you receive rental payments on time. So if your resident comes to you wanting to sublet your rental property for the few months their roommate is away or simply for the weekend, go for it, but with one extra condition: tenant screening background check.
While Airbnb has cultivated a community of honest travelers and hosts, simply riding on a photo id, email, and social media verification has its downsides. Because their process lacks screening, Airbnb and its users have had serious issues, from a porn director booking a stay under another name to the recent scandal where the residents illegally remodeled their 3-bedroom to a 10-bedroom apartment. Recent research from Harvard even suggests that discrimination is present in non-instant bookings on Airbnb. By making screening a requirement for subleasing, you insure not only that your property and your resident is safe from potential criminals, but it also provides your resident objective data that helps avoid discrimination and aligns your resident’s subleasing practices to Fair Housing requirements. Additionally, if your resident is serious about subleasing through Airbnb, you should remind them that there might be some state-wide and local laws that will need to be followed.
Whether you use Airbnb as a host or a guest, you rely on honesty of others, and unfortunately that trust is easily and often broken. Whether your resident is honest and asks if they can sublease or is dishonest and unlawfully lists your rental on Airbnb, understanding what you can and can’t legally do will help shape your actions in the future.
Have you encountered a situation where residents have violated your lease in such an extreme way? How do you recommend handling these kinds of difficult situations while still protecting your communities and the rights if your residents? Let us know in the comments below!