There is something odd about the first floor apartment in the Williamsburg townhouse my boyfriend rents: specifically, it’s unclear who lives there. The foot traffic through the front door makes good fodder for the speculative kind of gossip common in an intimately dense city like New York, where fights and guitar strumming sessions are audible through walls and you occasionally glimpse the guy across the street sitting in front of his computer in the throes of an oily, full frontal Friday night odyssey of self-pleasure.
So what’s more uncomfortable: seeing your neighbor naked, or knowing that they’re operating an ad-hoc hostel out of your building? “I think the people downstairs are doing Airbnb,” our boyfriend stage-whispered suspiciously the other weekend.
It called to mind a recent letter to the “vertical living” advice columnist Jamie Lauren Sutton (that’s her pseudonym: she’s a 37-year-old living in Manhattan, but declined to give further information) over at the New York City real estate blog Brick Underground.
Earlier this month, Ms. Sutton, who also goes by “Ms. Demeanor,” received a letter from a concerned Airbnb neighbor:
Dear Ms. Demeanor,
I am 100% percent certain that my neighbor rents out her apartment for short stints when she is on vacation. She practically told me herself and suggested I check out the website http://www.airbnb.com where I found an eerily familiar listing.
I know this is totally illegal but I don’t want her to be fined – I just want her to quit it before she accepts a bedbug-ridden backpacker or plain old psychopath in to our lovely Brooklyn Heights building.
Help, I don’t want to live in a hostel!
Ms. Sutton said she’s had about 10 emails in this vein. “In the summer, that’s when it started,” she told Betabeat. “It’s getting to be a hot topic because it had been sort of posted about that it was a good thing to do. People recommended it. And then there was a backlash.”
Renting out your apartment on Airbnb is “definitely illegal,” she said, but it’s more of a courtesy issue, like listening to porn too loudly or whether to tip the doorman at Christmas.
“It’s a very serious etiquette breach,” she said. “It’s probably one of the more serious issues that I write about. Most of the other things are annoyances, are truly etiquette, like how do you navigate given that we’re all sort of smushed together. This is something more serious.”
Airbnb competitors Roomorama, HomeAway, the apartment swap section of Craigslist and the one for the Hamptons, hreo.com, are just as problematic, she said. “If you live in a house and you want to take the risk of allowing a stranger into your home, fine,” she said. “But if you live in an apartment building, you’re effectively allowing that stranger into every home. That should be a shared decision.”
“The Craigslist was the best thing in the world until the Craigslist killer, and it’s not going to be long,” she said ominously, suggesting vandalization isn’t the worst threat. “It’s a really big deal. Hotels are hotels for a reason.”
For a while, Airbnb was a major issue in the East Village complex Stuyvesant Town due to a strict management policy and an anonymous resident blogger, Lux Living, who made the issue a personal crusade, even briefly managing a Twitter account registered for the purpose of denouncing Airbnb (which was then suspended by Twitter, Lux Living alleged). But Lux Living apparently laid down his pen; and the Airbnb issue may have died with him. (Or perhaps the renters simply quit renting: there are no results in Stuytown on Airbnb at the moment.)
Another Stuytown blogger, the Stuytown Reporter, by contrast, was aloof. “Unfortunately, the Stuy Town blogger, Lux Living, who investigated the Airbnb matter, is not around anymore and took his sites down,” he or she said in an email. “I’ve not taken a similar interest on my blog.”
Not so for all the readers of the Stuytown Report. “I live on 14th and every weekend I see people arriving and leaving with luggage and it is totally obvious from the way they behave and overhearing their conversations (usually on cell phones) that they are ‘hotel’ customers,” one commenter wrote in reference to Airbnb. “They’re not even subtle or discreet about it! No wonder we are infested with bedbugs.”