Airbnb and Me

Is Airbnb Bothering the Neighbors?

 

large Is Airbnb Bothering the Neighbors?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.

Signed,

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.”

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com

Comments

  1. Nataraj says:

    I recently moved into a share in a large Williamsburg apartment only to discover a month later that my sublessor had lied to me and was no my roommate at all but lives elsewhere nearby and uses her room in the apartment as a revolving-door airbnb spot.  The situation is far from desirable and I am re-packing my things as we speak… 

  2. janeyd says:

    Even though you can’t spot Stuy Town apartments on airbnb, the’re still there. Management  didn’t care and obviously they still don’t.  Lux Living is gone, but nothing died with Lux Living since there was no death.  
    http://www.airbnb.com/rooms/301818 http://www.airbnb.com/rooms/295226 http://www.airbnb.com/rooms/300241 http://www.airbnb.com/rooms/292978 

  3. Derek Kerton says:

    When the expert, Jamie Lauren Sutton, is quoted “It’s a really big deal. Hotels are hotels for a reason.”, I see what she means, but she has badly mis-stated her point.

    That’s because the #1 main reason ‘hotels are hotels’ is so travelers will know where to ask if there is a room/bed to rent when they need one. It is mainly a solution to the problem of discovery – where can I sleep when I travel. And the answer is lit in neon, on signs, brochures, phone books, orbitz.com, etc. Because ‘known availabiliy’ is the main raison d’etre for hotels, much hotel custom can be diverted to private residences by AirBNB, simply because they solve the discovery problem by matching available beds to arriving travelers that plan ahead and use the InterWebz.

    Yet as Ms. Sutton sought to express, there are many other reasons ‘hotels are hotels’, from security, cc cameras to catch bad guys, night watchmen, room service that can check up on a room, a front desk one can call to complain about noise, food service, fresh towels and sheets, cleaning, soundproofing (some), large elevators, wall protection for suitcases, doormen, to drop-off lanes, etc. AirBNB helps find the empty beds, but not much else.

    She should have said, “There’s a lot more to a hotel than an empty bed, and AirBNB only offers a partial solution.” Neighbors often pick up the collateral damage. I like the sharing economy, but not when it conflicts with reasonable courtesies we should offer our building-mates.