New law means higher NYC hotel rates

08/08/2010 12:00 AM

08/08/2010 12:35 AM

To the dismay of everyone in the travel industry other than hotel executives, Gov. David Paterson of New York has signed legislation outlawing the rental of apartments in New York (which means primarily New York City) for periods of less than 30 days. A large pro-tourism industry has just received a staggering blow, and tens of thousands of tourists will have to pay expensive hotel rates for their stays in New York City. Manhattan, in particular, has just joined the island of Maui and the city of Paris, France, as a place where tourists can no longer enjoy a far more spacious, far more pleasant, form of accommodation for much less than most hotels charge.

Because the vote in the New York state senate to approve this bill was fairly close, it may be that pro-tourism forces will be able at a later time to narrow the application of this far-reaching prohibition. For the time being, however, a vast number of low-income actors, actresses, writers, graduate students, interns and others in need of extra income will no longer be able to move out of their apartments for a short time (staying with friends) and rent those apartments to tourists seeking a cheap accommodation. This wholly innocent practice has been outlawed by a blunderbuss bill designed, supposedly, to thwart the short-term rental of apartments by greedy real estate speculators.

But for what it's worth, it should be pointed out that the legislation does not (as I read it) prevent an apartment owner from renting a spare room in his or her apartment to transient visitors, as long as the apartment owner remains in residence. That's like taking in a "boarder," a "lodger." And since that type of spare-room, spare-bed, spare-cot rental is the major stock in trade of such websites as www.airbnb.com or Crashpadder.com, the latter services should remain popular and legal.

Nor does the bill seem to outlaw free hospitality and cultural exchanges, such as those provided by CouchSurfing (www.couchsurfing.org), GlobalFreeloaders.com or Servas (www.servas.org). And where the owner of an apartment swaps it with another owner during the time of their respective vacations, in transactions where no money is exchanged, the practice seems entirely legal.

Still, New York City, Maui and Paris will now be places where you can't simply contact a real estate broker and rent an apartment for the week of your stay. Let's all hope that this misguided effort eventually will be repealed through the political process.

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