The Shared Economy: Cornegy, Brooklyn Airbnb Hosts Push Back Against New Law

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Bed-Stuy Airbnb hosts Richelle and Pela Burnett Photo:  Kings County Politics
Bed-Stuy Airbnb hosts Richelle and Pela Burnett Photo: Kings County Politics

By Kings County Politics

Calling companies like Airbnb the wave of the future, City Councilman Robert Cornegy, Jr. (Bedford-Stuyvesant/Northern Crown Heights) today pushed back at Governor Andrew Cuomo signing into law last week the imposing of fines of up to $7,500 for people advertising home-sharing in buildings with four units or more for less than 30 days.

The strict fines facing homeowners and renters is because their advertising violates a 2010 city ordinance making home-sharing in multifamily units for less than 30 days in New York City illegal. Under the legislation, which had strong support from the state Hotel and Motel Trades Council, people are allowed to rent out a room in their house or apartment as long as they are also staying there.

Hours after Cuomo signed the bill, Airbnb responded with a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court, charging the new law as being unconstitutional.

But in neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy, which is increasingly being gentrified, and has a number of brownstone owners struggling to keep up with their bills, Airbnb and other home-sharing companies have been a huge economic lifeline while also pumping thousands of dollars into the local economy from tourists that would otherwise be staying in expensive hotels in Downtown Brooklyn or Manhattan.

“The home I live in has always been our family home and we needed additional income,” said Bed-Stuy homeowner Richelle Burnett, who has utilized Airbnb for three years in renting out two of the apartments in the house.

“Airbnb allows us to rent the space when we want without the responsibility of having someone long-term and things not working out. It also keeps the apartments available for family to use the apartments when they come in from out of town,” she added.

Burnett said on the flip side that tourists from all over the world have stayed at her house and it has offered them a new way to travel and sightsee or live cheaply when visiting family members. She has also banned together with other Bed-Stuy Airbnb hosts where they meet monthly and help promote local restaurants, grocery stores and specialty shops, giving the local economy and small businesses a big boost.

Among the Bed-Stuy Airbnb hosts belonging to this club is Michelle Yates, who lives in a town house and rents out a garden apartment through Airbnb.

“I’m not happy with this new law. There’s so many other things illegally done in which to pay attention. The city says home-sharing is preventing affordable housing, but we’re not the cause of that. They should focus on all the big developers in Downtown Brooklyn charging lots of money. They’re the ones preventing affordable housing,” Yates said.

Both Burnett and Yates acknowledged that the law doesn’t apply to them because they both own homes with less than four units, but both worry the law might be expanded and that the principle behind the new law involves too much government regulation.

“I pay taxes and I should be able to choose if I want to host through Airbnb,” said Yates. “That should be my decision and not the governor.”

Cornegy said he’s met with Airbnb hosts in his district and he supports the home-sharing service.

“There are over 1,000 Airbnb hosts in the Bed-Stuy/Crown Heights area, primarily homeowners who have found a way with escalating homeownership costs to supplement  their respective incomes while simultaneously acting as ambassadors to these historic areas,” said Cornegy.

“The relationship between these hosts, their customers and local small businesses has yielded a unique ecosystem and stimulates the local economy in a way not seen in a long while. I encourage the partnership between the emerging shared economy with brick and mortar businesses. This model is truly the wave of the future,” he added.

According to Airbnb, there were 10,116 listings through the company from September 2015 to Sept. 2016, generating $104 million for its hosts. The Kings County one sheet can be found here.

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