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Airbnb hosts protest new rental law outside New York governor's office

A showdown over the new law and affordable housing

Less than a week after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that would severely limit the kind of properties New York City residents can rent out on Airbnb, about 50 hosts from the online service rallied outside Cuomo's office this morning to protest the new law. The new law prohibits Airbnb hosts from listing out unoccupied apartments for less than 30 days. Three days before Cuomo provided his sign-off, Airbnb attempted to provide a set of concessions that include setting up a host-registration system and limiting listings to just one property per host.

The rally was organized by the New York Host Clubs, composed of hosts from New York's five boroughs. Airbnb describes Host Clubs as "host-led local organizations that drive initiatives to better their neighborhoods." Noah Theran from advocacy group Internet Association and Mathew Minchelli from TechNet were also in attendance. In parallel, New York Assemblymember and bill sponsor Linda Rosenthal stood alongside anti-Airbnb protesters who held a counter-rally.

Proponents of the law say it’s an issue of affordable housing, but the protesters argue it’s just part of the sharing economy. "Everyone wants affordable housing," says Leon Feingold, a 43-year-old real estate broker and lawyer with one listed Airbnb property, "but Airbnb just allows people to share their homes, it's got nothing to do with affordable housing." Feingold supports Airbnb's policy proposal and believes that's the key to make "everybody happy." "Cuomo has an easy solution, I don't know why he hasn't done it."

"Cuomo has an easy solution, I don't know why he hasn't done it."

Rosenthal rejects the idea that the new law would hurt individuals who list their homes on Airbnb as a way to make ends meet. She told reporters that the new law won’t affect individuals who rent out their properties while still living in them. "What we're after is the commercial operator who take thousands of units that they control, that they could rent to permanent New Yorkers, and instead turn them into one night, two night stays and that is what is illegal and that is what has deprived permanent New Yorkers a place to stay. Because these units should have been, and were at one time occupied by New Yorkers, and now they're occupied by tourists."

Rosenthal went on to say, "Airbnb is concerned about tourists, we're concerned about permanent New Yorkers." When pressed about what she has to say about those who argue that Airbnb provides a source of revenue for New York, Rosenthal responded, "tourism is booming. It always has, it's even increasing, tourists will find ways to stay here."

Airbnb rally Anisa Purbasari

Airbnb Rally in New York City.

Catherine G., a hotel worker who rents out her Upper West Side condo on Airbnb, disagrees. "Our housing is not as affordable as we'd like it to be, this is allowing us to stay in our houses, so there's no fight going on. We want affordable housing. It's not us against them, it's not even us against the hotel industry. It's just about us as New Yorkers being able to afford the city and provide a service like car sharing and other things."

The New York Host Clubs also delivered a letter to Cuomo today requesting a meeting to share "firsthand consequences" of the new law and "make a case for homesharing reforms" that distinguishes illegal hotel operators and "everyday New Yorkers" who engage in responsible home-sharing. Boxes containing over 80,000 messages from those in support of home-sharing have also been delivered to Cuomo's office.