In Charles Dickens classic Oliver Twist, the character Mr Bumble is informed that “the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction”. It solicits the classic response
“If the law supposes that … the law is a ass—a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.”
Never has this seemed more apt than in a ruling this week in New York City that the sofa surfing website Airbnb is in fact illegal. The judge ruled that a man who rented out his flat via the site had violated a 2011 law that was setup to prevent illegal hotels. This ruling determines that property owners cannot rent out their property for less than a 30-day period over the course of a year, so the odd weekend here and there as is common on Airbnb is against the law.
The case in question revolved around a gentleman who had rented his appartment to a woman for a 3-day stint in September. This was deemed to have broken the hotel law, and the judge ordered him to pay a $7,000 fine. Whilst a later ruling reduced this to $2,400, it still represents a major blow to the ethos of the site.
Here is the official statement from Airbnb.
“This decision runs contrary to the stated intention and the plain text of New York law, so obviously we are disappointed. 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. There is universal agreement that occasional hosts like Nigel Warren were not the target of the 2010 law, but that agreement provides little comfort to the handful of people, like Nigel, who find themselves targeted by overzealous enforcement officials. It is time to fix this law and protect hosts who occasionally rent out their own homes. Eighty-seven percent of Airbnb hosts in New York list just a home they live in — they are average New Yorkers trying to make ends meet, not illegal hotels that should be subject to the 2010 law.”
It’s worth remembering that this is the same Airbnb that was used as a platform to provide temporary shelter to over 4,000 people after hurricane Sandy had hit the very same state that has now ruled much of the sites activities illegal. There’s gratitude for you.
As Mr Bumble aptly put it, the law is indeed an ass.