After Sandy, NYC brokerages ramp up short-term rental efforts

But the law against short-term stays could trip them up

From left: Town's Molly Bonnell and Fillmore's John Reinhardt
From left: Town's Molly Bonnell and Fillmore's John Reinhardt

With victims of Hurricane Sandy displaced throughout Manhattan, brokerages say the demand for short-term rentals is high, and they are attempting to find homes for the hundreds of thousands of displaced residents. However, short-term rentals are not only scarce, they are a legally thorny issue, industry experts noted.

“Yes, we are finding that people are in need of furnished short-term rentals, especially if they are in buildings where power is expected to be out beyond Friday,” Molly Bonnell, leasing manager for Town Residential’s Financial District office told The Real Deal via email. “We have been going through a list of furnished short-term rentals, but [we are] finding that the normal corporate-housing companies/short-term furnished companies already are at capacity in their locations with power.”

Fillmore Real Estate, a Brooklyn-based brokerage with offices in Canarsie and the Flatlands area, had taken to social media this morning in search of short-term homes for clients. The search began in part because a former employee who, along with her brother and parents, lost their homes in the fire in Breezy Point, Queens, and were in immediate need of housing, said Barbara Mollica, assistant to Fillmore’s president, John Reinhardt.

“We are also trying to collect clothing,” Mollica said. “People need a lot of things right now.”

Other brokerages are also reaching out to Sandy’s victims in various ways. Prudential Douglas Elliman is allowing storm victims to charge their cell phones, use landlines and check emails at the brokerage’s offices, a spokesperson said. And Loho Realty, in Soho, was giving free bottled water out to passersby, as Curbed noted.

Elliman is also in the process of “adding a short-term rental feature on our website to help storm victims in all the regions we service.” Elliman already offers furnished rentals, and will continue to do so, the spokesperson said.

But, ironically, their efforts may be hampered by a state law designed to protect tenants from living in spaces that are not up to code. The law, which took effect last May, strengthened the prohibition against renting rooms for under 30 days, and it might dissuade some small landlords from letting spaces, brokers said.

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“I can only offer opinion on the possibility of laws being changed,” Bonnell noted, saying the laws exist for a reason and would likely not be changed because of the storm. “Once a renter is in, they are very much protected by the law.”

A recent crackdown by the city resulted in a $1 million lawsuit against Smart Apartments, a large-scale operator of short-term rentals in more than 50 buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn, as The Real Deal reported.

Because the legislation is a state-law and concerns about unsafe accommodations remain very real, it is unclear whether the city can or will take any action to change enforcement protocols for short-term housing, city officials told The Real Deal.

Some landlords will likely choose to accept short-term leases — but at their own legal and financial risk, Bonnell said.

Rent-stabilized buildings with 421-a tax abatements “should err on the side of caution because they risk losing tax benefits if they allow stays shorter than a year or two,” Bonnell added. “Some condos may be more lenient with having people in as guests prior to final approval.”