Spies among us! Hotel group pays spooks to bust illegal Airbnb listings

Share Better plans to spend $1M on operation

Airbnb's Josh Meltzer and Metropolitan Public Strategies' Neal Kwatra (Credit: Twitter)
Airbnb's Josh Meltzer and Metropolitan Public Strategies' Neal Kwatra (Credit: Twitter)

An advocacy group backed by the hotel industry pays spies to bust illegal Airbnb listings in New York City.

The private investigators, part of an operation run by consultancy Metropolitan Public Strategies on behalf of lobbying group Share Better, rent rooms through Airbnb under fake identities and then look for signs that the unit is run as a de-facto hotel, for example by checking for family photos on the walls, Bloomberg reported.

It is illegal in New York City to rent out an apartment for less than 30 days unless the owner is also present, and Share Better’s spies are trying to root out listings that fail to meet that criterion.

Share Better claims it sends its findings to the Mayor’s Office of special Enforcement, which has been battling illegal Airbnb listings citing the need to preserve the rental housing supply. “We are bringing them, wrapped in a bow, a bunch of leads to make their enforcement efforts that much more efficient,” Metropolitan’s Neal Kwatra told Bloomberg. The firm claims to have shared information on dozens of potentially illegal listings with the city.

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Share Better plans to spend $1 million this year to bust illegal listings.

Airbnb’s head of public policy in New York Josh Meltzer criticized the strategy. “The hotel industry and its lobbyists using Share Better to spy on New Yorkers and delivering that information to city agents is a disturbing violation of basic privacy,” he said. “The city should reject these second-rate KGB spy tactics and work with Airbnb to sensibly regulate home-sharing.”

Share Better made a name for itself last year by heavily campaigning in favor of a new state law that increases penalties for Airbnb hosts who violate housing laws, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law.

In May, the city sued a Lower East Side landlord for $1.2 million for allegedly running illegal hotels. It has also fined landlords who alert city officials to illegal Airbnb uses on their properties. [Bloomberg]Konrad Putzier