A man who rented his New York City room to a stranger using Airbnb was ordered by a judge today to pay a $2,400 fine for breaking a law that was in no way meant for him. The 2010 rule says that an apartment "may only be used as private residences and may not be rented for transient, hotel, or motel purposes" for less than 29 days, in hopes of stopping people from buying entire buildings and running them like hotels without the safety measures. The invention of a website that helps New Yorkers save some money on rent while they're out of town was an unforeseen complication.
"This decision runs contrary to the stated intention and the plain text of New York law, so obviously we are disappointed," Airbnb said in a statement. "But more importantly, this decision makes it even more critical that New York law be clarified to make sure regular New Yorkers can occasionally rent out their own homes." That won't help this guy, who can still appeal if he so chooses to try again.
The start-up sent a lawyer to argue on behalf of the host, Nigel Warren, who made about $300 from the arrangement and whose roommate was even home during the stay. As the Verge notes, "New York City, where Airbnb is projected to do $1 billion in sales in 2013, is an important battleground for the startup, which has run into trouble with regulators in some cities." (The city, it should be noted, teamed up with Airbnb to help house victims of Hurricane Sandy.)
While the judge failed to let Warren off the hook entirely, he did cut the punishment down from $7,000, throwing out four of five of the spottily enforced violations. Warren can live with that: "I'd say it's now a pain in the ass, which is much better than life-altering," he said.