Airbnb: This is where I rest my head – and my case

In New York, there are strict regulations about rental accommodation and the airbnb folk are running unique, good value, but ostensibly “illegal" hotels

Yah boo to New York. The city that’s top of most people’s dream long-weekend destination list is clamping down on the best way to stay there – the rental website airbnb.com. For those who haven’t come across it, the site is a shop window for people who have a spare room, or who rent out their apartment or house from time to time. It is fun and breezy and it’s a product of our times. Those who are used to sharing pictures on Facebook and quips on Twitter are the ones who feel happy advertising their groovy little flat or loft room to the world at large, and then allowing people to stay, and those happy booking something on the strength of a jaunty description and a few snaps – a blind date with sofas.

Airbnb, which started in San Francisco in 2008, is all over the world now: think of a destination, search the site and chances are you’ll find something that’s a homely alternative to a corporate hotel. (That rather clumsy name? Short for airbed and breakfast, though thankfully inflatable mattresses are not ubiquitous.)

In New York, there are strict regulations about rental accommodation and the airbnb folk are running, ostensibly, “illegal hotels”. According to Judge Morrick – in a ruling that states that to rent out a space for fewer than 30 days without residing in it is to break the law – it must be stopped. And if the term illegal hotel suggests flophouses where seedy characters hang around the corridors, rather than charming little studio apartments in Greenwich Village, the judge doesn’t want to hear the complaints.

Now, hot on the heels of the judge, comes the tax man. Of course, this neat little private (inasmuch as something so allied to social media can be) enterprise, is not run exactly like a FTSE 100 business. But there are roughly 30,000 New Yorkers who have registered their properties on Airbnb, and the income from their guests totals not far off $1bn a year. That’s a lot of money – and one can imagine how Manhattan’s hotels feel about it…

So is the party over? I’ve used the service more than once in NYC, where the hotel rooms can be chilly boxes with views of a brick wall unless you pay $1,000 a night. It’s brilliant for families, as you don’t have to vacate all day or run the risk of going stir crazy. And it is, of course, cheap.

But if we’re going to be cross about big-business tax-avoiders, we need to take this one for the team. A room rented from airbnb (or the imitators which are no doubt springing up) with city tax is still unique, good value and fun.

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