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Landlord’s Rights and Obligations in the Airbnb World

March 18, 2015 Posted in Landlord/Tenant Law

One of the biggest topics in New York landlord/tenant law right now is the ongoing legal and public opinion battle between Airbnb and the City of New York. Many landlords in New York find many of their apartments rented out each day to tourists, business travelers or others on short-term stays, many as short as one (1) night. As New York Councilman Corey Johnson recently expressed in a New York Times article, “No one should have to live in a building or next to someone where the apartment is being used as an illegal hotel, people coming and going, traipsing in and out, no idea who they are.” In addition to the fears of residents and landlords regarding the safety and security of living in or operating a building with transient tenancies, it is also against the law.

The New York State Multiple Dwelling Law (MDL) prohibits unhosted rentals of less than thirty (30) days in any “Class A” multiple dwelling, which is any residential building occupied by three or more families living independently. Each unit must be occupied by the same tenant for at least thirty (30) days. With the advent of websites such as Airbnb.com, cities like New York City are seeing incredible amounts of tenancies in violation of the MDL. In October, New York’s Attorney General, Eric T. Schneiderman, released a report that found that nearly three-quarters of all Airbnb rentals in the city were illegal.

To help combat these tenancies, the Mayor’s Office has tasked his Office of Special Enforcement to investigate and prosecute illegal tenancies throughout the city. In 2014 alone, the Office of Special Enforcement responded to 1,150 complaints to 311 about illegal tenancies according to Criminal Justice Director Elizabeth Glazer in a recent Observer article. The Office of Special Enforcement has the power to not only levy fines and criminal penalties on the tenants illegally subletting their apartments, but also upon their landlords for allowing it to persist.

It is important, therefore, for landlords to be diligent in protecting their property by ensuring none of their tenants are violating the MDL by illegally subletting their apartment for periods of thirty (30) days or less. So how to landlord’s go about it?

The first thing that is important for all landlords to do is establish a procedure for monitoring who comes in and out of the building. We recommend that landlords who employ concierge, doormen or other security establish a policy of checking in all guests that enter the property. The guest should not be permitted access to the building unless he is accompanied by a resident or the resident has previously submitted authorization that guests will be coming to meet them. Landlords may wish to consider requiring guests who are staying in the building for multiple days to provide photo identification which should be copied and stored alongside the guest log.

If a landlord finds evidence that a tenant is advertising their apartment for transient purposes on a website like airbnb, the landlord can serve a warning letter to the tenant advising that transient tenancies are illegal in New York and violating the law is a violation of the lease agreement. If the landlord learns that a tenant is illegally subletting the apartment, the landlord may commence eviction action based upon breaching of the law and material obligations under the lease. The landlord must usually provide a Notice to Cure to the tenant to allow him a period of time with which to cure the defect. If he fails to cure within the time stated in the notice, the landlord may terminate the tenancy on thirty (30) days’ notice. If the tenants fails to vacate, the landlord may commence an holdover eviction action.

As each situation is unique, it is important for landlords to consult with their New York Landlord Tenant attorneys before proceeding with any eviction action for transient tenancies. If you are a landlord facing an issue with transient tenancies in your building, please give Griffin Alexander, P.C. a call to discuss your situation.

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