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Is Airbnb Legal?

is-airbnb-legalAirbnb, the rapidly growing home-sharing site that connects short-term guests with welcoming hosts, has found itself in some hot water recently. We thought it would be interesting to discuss some of the legal issues that affect your ability to use Airbnb to rent out your apartment or other residence to guests. So below is a brief look into Airbnb’s most recent legal troubles, along with a broader analysis of whether Airbnb is legal at all and what some of the specific legal concerns are for users listing their homes on Airbnb.

Bed and Breakfast Gone Wrong

Ari Teman, a comedian in New York City was surprised to find that his guests secretly held an “XXX Freak Fest” at his apartment. The guests, surprisingly, were not respectful of Ari’s things and ultimately cost the man an estimated $87,000 in losses. Ari went to Twitter demanding reparations from Airbnb for the ‘illegal, dangerous sex ring’ that took place in his apartment. This may be a drop in the bucket for Airbnb, which reportedly rented between 12 and 15 million room-nights in 2012, but some are saying that Airbnb has more fundamental legal problems. Many claim that Airbnb’s entire business model is largely illegal. Most cities regulate short-term rentals, like hotels or bed-and-breakfasts, in order to limit the traffic of short-term residents in residential areas. Cities often require certain zoning for short-term rentals. These zoning requirements are routinely flouted by Airbnb users.

How to Find Out Whether Airbnb is Legal in My Area

Usually, actually interpreting whether Airbnb is legal in your jurisdiction is a hard, time-consuming process. One would need to scan through tons of zoning codes and administrative regulations for each jurisdiction. According to Airbnb’s own FAQ, “[i]n many cities, you must register, get a permit, or obtain a license before you list your property or accept guests. Certain types of short-term bookings may be prohibited altogether.”

Zoning Enforcement and Airbnb

Although participating with Airbnb might not be technically allowed, prohibitions are not regularly enforced.  Officials do not get many tips related to Airbnb and they don’t have the time to regularly investigate such inconsequential violations. Most likely, any legal problems arising from Airbnb will be those arising from your landlord.

How Airbnb Affects Your Lease

Although leases vary significantly, depending on who owns the building and who is acting as landlord. Many leases, however, include provisions that limit tenant behavior. Tenants often cannot bring in additional occupants without paying some additional fee or getting consent from the landlord. Some leases even limit longer-term guests in order to avoid certain legal complications. If your landlord believes your use of Airbnb breaches your lease, he can try to evict you. Usually, evictions are settled before court, but it could come down to whether the judge’s reading of your lease. You never know how that will go. To avoid getting in trouble with your landlord, you should consider talking to your landlord about it. Some will find no problem with it, others might require some additional rent, but some might prohibit it completely. Beware, because if it’s prohibited and you still want to go forward, your landlord will be on notice.

About Aaron George

Visionary. Entrepreneur. Law school dropout. Working on bringing the legal industry online. And blogging about it.


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