On Monday, the office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a list of the top Airbnb users with at least one “illegal” listing on the site. Business Insider reached out to the top five alleged Airbnb lawbreakers Tuesday in an attempt to get their side of the story.
Schneiderman has been investigating Airbnb last year in a bid to stop users from violating a New York law that prohibits renters from subletting entire apartments for less than 30 days at a time in buildings with three apartments or more. As part of that investigation, Schneiderman subpoenaed the company for information about more than 16,000 users who rent rooms on the site. Airbnb has attempted to quash that subpoena. Schneiderman filed an affidavit in support of the subpoena Monday including research from his office alleging two-thirds of the site’s users in New York appeared to be violating the law.
The top five users on Schneiderman’s list come from a variety of backgrounds. Business Insider found a company with over 100 listings on the site, a real estate agent who said he had no idea he was being targeted by the attorney general, an international entrepreneur, a boutique hotel, and a Brooklyn man who said he just wants to rent spare rooms in his apartment.
See all five below. Neither Schneiderman’s office or Airbnb responded on record to this story.
1. Metro Inc.
The user with the most Airbnb listings on Schneiderman’s list is Metro Inc. According to the attorney general’s office, Metro Inc. offered 134 listings, 123 of which seemed to violate the law.
Airbnb released a statement Monday saying it removed over 2,000 listings posted on the site by “bad actors.” In a separate statement to Business Insider Monday, Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas said the effort to purge those listings had been underway for “months.” Because of this, Metro Inc.’s page on the site is no longer active, but Google cached pages show its profile was still there Monday and some of its listings were visible as recently as Sunday.
Metro Inc.’s profile and listings described it as a “registered company in NYS” that offered “ONLY LEGAL” listings. An advertisement for one of its listings on West 46th Street in Manhattan said Metro Inc. had multiple properties available in the same building.
“NO WORRY ABOUT LEGAL ISSUE IN NYC HOUSING LAW. OUR property is in zoning C6 (commercial). So it is not illegal to do short term. IT IS LEGAL TO RENT YOU OUT THE APARTMENT,” the advertisement said. “WE ARE DOING ONLY LEGAL.”
Metro Inc. could not be reached for comment Monday. In spite of what its ads say, Metro Inc. does not appear to be listed in the New York Corporation and Business Entity Database and seems to be using the logo of an Australian hotel chain.
2. Eran Haviv
According to Schneiderman’s office, Eran Haviv had 42 listings on Airbnb, 12 of which seemed to violate the law. Haviv’s profile is no longer on the site, but a cached version captured April 16 described him as a “top-producing broker in luxury rentals and sales” and the founder of the “boutique real estate firm, Essence-Realty.”
“To Eran, relationships are the key to any service business, especially real estate. Deals will happen if you’re good at what you do, conduct yourself honorably and professionally, properly educate clients on the market, and know how to find the right people-property fit,” the profile said.
A website for Essence Realty describes it as a four-person firm that offers both rentals and “guest suites.” Business Insider spoke to Haviv Tuesday and he said the company “called” him last week and said it would be removing his listings. Haviv claimed he was unaware of Schneiderman’s list, but he said none of his apartments on Airbnb were being rented for periods of less than 30 days.
“I had Airbnb listings, but I didn’t do any of the daily that they are talking about, so I don’t have any problem with them putting me on the list,” Haviv explained.
Haviv also said most of his listings actually belonged to other people.
“I had a lot of listings there, you know, most of them are not mine. I’m advertising other peoples’ listings to help them rent apartments,” said Haviv, adding, “But nothing for daily, nothing less than 30 days.”
Haviv subsequently admitted he had “one” listing that was offered for a period of less than 30 days, but he said he never found anyone who wanted it. According to Haviv, he attempted to rent the property as a favor to a friend who went on a trip.
“I had one but it was never rented,” Haviv said. “It was just there because, you know, it was a temporary vacation, somebody went for vacation.”
Haviv would not say how much he made on the site.
“I’m not able to answer any of those questions,” Haviv said. “I’m sorry my friend.”
3. Peter Chen
Peter Chen describes himself as a “regular host” on Airbnb who also works as a bartender. He said Airbnb removed his listings on the site yesterday. According to Schneiderman’s office, Chen had 38 listings, eight of which seemed to violate the law.
Chen told Business Insider he rented rooms in his four-bedroom apartment on the site as well as rooms for friends, who gave him managing fees. He said he “predominantly” rents rooms within apartments, but has rented entire apartments “on occasion.”
“I’m a regular host that basically has — I have my place that I rent out just like anyone else and I’ve been doing that for, I’d say two-and-a-half years now,” Chen said. “Over time, I’ve had friends that basically have their places and they just wanted me to list their place, essentially piggybacking off of my reviews. … I started doing a business on my own where I would manage properties and take a percentage for the booking.”
In total, Chen said he made “probably like $45,000 or $50,000″ using Airbnb last year, which he paid taxes on. Chen said he did not realize he was breaking the law and would like to keep his profile on the site offering only lawful listings. He also said he has “been calling” Airbnb in an attempt to keep the more than 300 reviews he accumulated on the site since 2012.
“I’ve been working a couple of years to have these good reviews and, right now, I’m just trying to salvage my own profile and be able to at least host out of my own place,” Chen said.
According to Schneiderman’s office, “Jay” had 33 Airbnb listings, 25 of which were illegal. “Jay’s” profile is no longer on the site, but a cached version of his profile and listings show he offered properties in both Manhattan and the Gangnam District in Seoul, South Korea. “Jay’s” profile described him as a travel professional.
“I have more than 10 years of experience as a NYC tour guide and have been running a travel agency based in NYC for the past 5 years. I enjoy meeting people from all over the world. I hope to help you make your trip to NYC a pleasant one,” he wrote. “Currently I have 18 properties in the Midtown, Manhattan area. You have a variety of properties to choose, from cozy studios to 3 bedroom apartments.”
“Jay” could not be reached for comment.
5. Box House Hotel
According to Schneiderman’s office, “Dana” has 28 listings on Airbnb, 28 of which seem to be violating the law. However, Dana’s profile, which is still on the site, identifies him as the “Box House Hotel.”
Business Insider tracked him down Tuesday, and he said his full name is Dana Schneider and he is director of the hotel. Schneider said all of his listings on Airbnb are rooms at the hotel, which advertises rooms using the site. In addition to private room-sharing, Airbnb does indeed allow some small hotels to advertise rooms on the site.
According to its website, the Box House Hotel is a “loft-style” hotel in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Records from New York City’s Department of Buildings show it is classified as a legal hotel by the city’s department of finance.