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This Is the True Scale of New York’s Airbnb Apocalypse

The number of short-term Airbnbs available in New York City has dropped 70 percent after the city began enforcing a new law requiring short-term rental operators to register their homes. But despite the new requirements, there are still thousands of listings that could be unregistered.

The drop, recorded between August 4 and September 5, the day New York City began enforcing the new law, represents the disappearance of some 15,000 short-term listings from Airbnb. The figures are based on data provided by Inside Airbnb, a housing advocacy group that tracks listings on the platform.

In August, there were some 22,000 short-term listings on Airbnb in New York City. As of September 5, there were 6,841. But it seems some short-term listings have been switched to long-term listings, which can only be booked for 30 days or more. The number of long-term rentals jumped by about 11,000 to a total of 32,612 from August 4 to September 5. These listings do not need to be registered under the new law.

Additionally, Inside Airbnb estimates that around 4,000 rentals in total have disappeared from Airbnb since the law took effect.

That uptick in long-term rentals may show that the law is working, by pushing hosts to offer apartments to those staying in New York City for 30 days or more. The new registration requirement is meant to enforce older rules on short-term rentals in the city, and it comes at a time when New Yorkers face high rents and housing insecurity. Vacation rentals are also known for bringing noise, trash, and danger to residential neighborhoods and buildings.

At a glance, it’s impossible to tell if a listing on Airbnb is registered with the city. Inside Airbnb found that only 28 short-term rentals in New York mentioned having a registration number from the city in their listing, but it’s not immediately clear if those numbers are legitimate, and the number of short-term rentals Inside Airbnb found far outpaces the number the city has registered.

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Ultimately, hosts will need to display registration numbers on their listings. New York City has received 3,829 registration applications, reviewed 896 applications, and granted 290 as of Monday, according to Christian Klossner, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement, which oversees the registration process. The office has denied 90 and returned another 516 seeking corrections or more information.

Airbnb says it began blocking new short-term reservations for unregistered rentals as early as August 14, but did not automatically cancel stays in unregistered apartments before December 1 to avoid disrupting guests’ travel plans. Expedia Group, the parent company of Vrbo, is working with “the city and our partners to meet the law’s requirements and minimize disruption to the city’s travelers and tourism economy,” says Richard de Sam Lazaro, the company’s senior director of government and corporate affairs. Booking.com did not respond to a request for comment.

But amid the chaotic rollout of the new law, a number of listings appear to be falling through the cracks. A search on Airbnb for apartments in New York for more than two guests returns several results that may break the new law. Entire homes are still available for booking, some with enough space for 12 or 14 guests. One, a townhouse in Harlem, has a backyard with a firepit, a living room with a pool table, and five bedrooms, some with multiple beds next to each other, set up hotel-style. It’s listed for around $1,400 per night.

Some of the listings still available may still be allowed on Airbnb. The new rule allows for hotels to list rooms on booking platforms and to continue to accept guests without having to register with the city. It was not immediately clear if some of the listings still on Airbnb qualify for this exemption. Airbnb did not comment on potentially illegal listings on its platform flagged by WIRED or on the data provided by Inside Airbnb.

Airbnb has fought against the New York City regulations, saying the change would seriously hamper both its business and host income in the city. To register, short-term rental hosts, whether on Airbnb, Vrbo, or elsewhere, must meet a strict set of conditions: They cannot rent out entire apartments, the host must be living in the home and be present during the booking, and only two guests can stay at a time. Hosts and platforms that facilitate illegal bookings could be penalized, but guests would not be.

Small landlords say the law unfairly targets people who try to list their own homes for rent while out of town, and smaller landlords who want to occasionally rent one apartment on a short-term basis. Whether or not the move to regulate short-term rentals in New York works has huge implications for other major tourist cities where the popularity of short-term rentals has contributed to housing shortages and affordability issues. And this initial hiccup shows how complicated it can be to get booking platforms and cities to talk to each other, while also having thousands of hosts apply to register their homes.

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Some of the stays could be lingering because the city’s verification system was not fully up and running, according to Skift. But Klossner, of the city’s Office of Special Enforcement, says the office is in the “initial phase” of enforcing the law, and is focusing on working with booking platforms to make sure they are using the registration verification system, and that they are not processing transactions for unregistered stays.

Airbnb is working with New York City to get the city’s verification system working, says Nathan Rotman, a regional lead for Airbnb. Once it’s fully operational, the city’s verification system will flag registered listings, and allow platforms like Airbnb to stop people from hosting short-term days without being verified, Rotman says.

Officials will also focus on responding to complaints about illegal occupancy. “Registration creates a clear path for hosts who follow the city’s long-standing laws and protects travelers from illegal and unsafe accommodations, while ending the proliferation of illegal short-term rentals,” Klossner says.

For now, people who book short-term rentals in New York—be it through Airbnb, Vrbo, or Booking.com—could find themselves caught in limbo. There’s no way for someone booking a short-term rental to know if they’re selecting a legal, registered apartment—or staying in a house skirting the city’s regulations.

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