New Map Shows Airbnb’s Possibly Illegal Listings In NYC

February 11, 2015 | Prachi Gupta

When facing accusations of potentially illegal activity from New York City officials in January, Airbnb defended itself by arguing that a majority of users rent apartments on occasion. The roomsharing service didn’t present any data at the time, but now community activist Murray Cox has scraped data from Airbnb’s site and put together an interactive map that gives some insight into how New Yorkers really use the service.

Capital explains that “Under state law, it is illegal to lease most homes—with the exception of one- and two-family residences—for periods of less than 30 days when the owner or tenant is not present.” The city is concerned that renters on Airbnb are effectively turning properties into hotels, taking much-needed housing off the market for potential tenants in a city that faces a housing crisis. Airbnb has countered by saying that, while some renters may behave this way, most just use the service as-needed. But Cox’s data suggests otherwise.

Using data from January 1st to January 3rd, Cox mapped entire apartments, private rooms, and shared rooms listed on Airbnb in the city. Nearly 60% of the city’s listings, almost 16,000, are for properties in which the resident would not be present. More than 85% of all properties are “highly available,” meaning they are available for more than 60 days. More than 29% are from hosts who have listings “in the same apartment, or multiple apartments or homes available in their entirity [sic].”


The Verge points out that aside from the fact that it only samples three days worth of data, Cox’s estimates don’t give us the whole story:

Because the data is scraped from Airbnb’s site, we don’t know some important things. For instance, we don’t know how often these properties are actually rented, as opposed to merely being available; instead, Cox uses the frequency of reviews as an index. For a conservative estimate of how many properties are dedicated to hosting tourists, I set the filter to show only entire apartments that are highly available and have frequent reviews: the total is 7,660 — 28 percent of listings.

Airbnb has previously called for legal reform to help “weed out” those who take advantage of the system. After a report by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in October found thousands of such listings, the company responded by banning them. However, it’s unlikely we’ll see much action in response to Cox’s data unless city officials get involved. “We never comment on public scrapes of our information, because, like here, these scrapes use inaccurate information to make misleading assumptions about our community,” said Airbnb spokesperson Christopher Nulty. “Thousands of regular New Yorkers are using Airbnb everyday to help make ends meet. That’s why it is so important that we fix local laws to allow people to share the home in which they live.”

(Image: Inside Airbnb)