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Mayor doubles OSE budget for Airbnb fight

The Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement (OSE) was allocated $1.2 million in additional funds to fight illegal conversions of residential units to hotel rooms.

Illegal hotels, which have been making news with the battle between short-term rental site Airbnb and the City, have been increasing rapidly in recent years.

Last year, there were 16,483 individual illegal hotel units in New York City, and 72 percent of Airbnb listings in the City are illegal, according to a 2014 report by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office. “New York City has a shortage of available housing, and every apartment used as a hotel room cannot be a home to a New Yorker,” said New York City Council Member Helen Rosenthal in a press release announcing the additional allocation to the OSE’s budget.

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The city is bulking up its efforts to target illegal Airbnb hotels.

The OSE, the agency that responds to 311 complaints of illegal hotel activity with inspectors from the DOB, the FDNY, and the Finance Department, now has a total budget of $2.8 million and 28 staff members for the 2016 fiscal year.

In addition to increasing the number of inspectors, the new funds will support a database administrator, four staff attorneys and a paralegal, according to a press release from the City Council.

Last month, Rosenthal and fellow Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez proposed raising the fine for first-time offenders operating illegal hotels from $1,000 to $10,000, with a maximum penalty of $50,000.

Elan Parra, former director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement, speaking at a June luncheon, said there are around 20,000 Airbnb listings in NYC, and he estimated that 99 percent of people using Airbnb don’t know that it is illegal.

Photo by jinkazamah/ Flickr
Photo by jinkazamah/ Flickr

In 2014, the city responded to 1,157 complaints, and 1,200 violations were issued as a result on-site inspections by the OSE. From January to April of this year, there was a 39 percent increase year-over-year in violations, and so far this year, a 77 percent increase, said Parra.

Ultimately, the city is focusing on the biggest offenders of illegal hotel use, like David Jaffee, a socialite who turned several apartments into illegal hotels, in some cases packing 20 bunkbeds into two-bedroom apartments and charging $35 a night.

In January, representatives of Airbnb spoke before the City Council and said that a crackdown would hurt New Yorkers who were full-time occupants of their apartments who rented extra rooms to make more income.

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