By Stephen Witt
The proliferation of online apartment sharing services such as Airbnb might have drawn the scorn of both the city’s powerful hotel lobby and a call for strict regulations, but in Bed-Stuy the renting out of apartments to short-stay tourists looking for a good deal, and an authentic Brooklyn experience, is helping the local economy.
“Almost every day we get people in here that utilize Airbnb,” said Milad Zarrin who, along with partner Ayo Balgun, own the Civil Service Café at 279 Nostrand Avenue and Clifton Place. “They come for coffee and food and to use our free Wi-Fi all the time and it brings more business to us.”
It also proved to be a lifesaver for the property owners and apartment dwellers, some of whom say it helps keep them solvent.
“I’ve been doing it for about four years,” said lifelong Bed-Stuy resident who asked her name not be printed and who bought a two-bedroom condominium before the bottom fell out on the economy. “In the beginning, I did it because I had no choice. I would have had to foreclose on my condo. But now I make good money and keep the condo in excellent condition.”
The resident said she rents out the condo for $175 per night, and has (at times) rented it to entire families including parents, kids and even grandparents.
“I get people from all over the world – Iceland, Australia, Nigeria and Japan. I give them a map of a ten-block radius of local cafes, restaurants, local Bed-Stuy churches and art galleries like the House of Art on Marcus Garvey Blvd.,” said the local resident. “I also let them know places of interest in Brooklyn like the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Flea.”
The resident said her condo is registered as an apartment/hotel so she also collects and pays applicable hotel taxes. She also agrees that the relatively new cottage industry needs to be more regulated.
“There are some valid issues. Like when you have people rent out entire rent-controlled buildings through Airbnb and start a whole mini-hotel. Some people rent several apartments and then live in one and rent the other two out. If someone is becoming a hotel or a bed-and-breakfast, then they should be regulated or they should force Airbnb to charge and collect taxes,” the resident said.
Which is exactly what New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently did through a court battle over obtaining rental data, and which was settled last week.
Under the terms of the agreement, Schneiderman’s office will get the information he is seeking about Airbnb hosts in the city, but it will be stripped of names and other personally identifiable information.
Schneiderman’s office will have a year to use the data to identify hosts who are renting out large blocks of rooms in violation of local laws. If he sees suspicious activity, Airbnb is required to identify the hosts.
Other organizations and elected officials who have spoken against Airbnb include the city’s strong hotel lobby and several elected officials including Public Advocate Letitia James.
But while the state is moving to regulate Airbnb, it’s just the tip of the iceberg in the apartment sharing business and it continues to help drive the economy in Central Brooklyn.
“We do get tourist traffic, but I have no idea where they book their lodgings. They could have gotten it through Airbnb, but it also could have come through FlipKey or AwayHome,” said Tremaine Wright, owner of Common Grounds Coffee Shop at 376 Tompkins Avenue.