How Airbnb Earned Me $20,000 And A Restraining Order From My Landlord

For a heady year, cash and friendly faces flowed into my apartment, paying my rent while I scraped together money to build a startup I had dreamed about for months. My apartment photographed well and tourists love Brooklyn; before long the two spare rooms in my place were grossing a thousand bucks over the cost of my rent on, the vacation-rental site that ranked 19 on FastCompany's list Most Innovative Companies list this year. The future seemed so sweet and easy that another host in my building rented a second apartment around the block just to host Bnb’rs. We wondered if our landlords had any inkling of the margins. 

The incentive of thousands of dollars compelled me to buy hotel-quality sheets, consider feng shui, and clean the shower. A girl from Australia arrived with a gift of Vegemite. A guy from Portland flew in to get some additions made to his full-body tattoo. A woman from San Francisco left a long thank-you note in very peculiar handwriting. I went to a New York Red Bulls game with a British guest, got a proper heckling lesson, and debated the appeal of Kate Middleton. In nine months, my Airbnb profile grossed me almost $20,000.  

When my reservation requests started to trail off, I got onto Airbnb to find dozens more hosts had popped up nearby, undercutting my nightly rate. Then I spotted something else: an Airbnb listing in a building nearby, hosted by a guy I recognized as my landlord’s right-hand man. My landlord had caught on. When I delivered my rent at the beginning of the next month, I found the management company’s office under construction. It's now a hotel. The "loft-style" rooms are now listed on Airbnb for $169 a night.

On Monday, June 4, about 10 days before my cofounders and I planned to push our first product into the iTunes App Store, a stranger in a blue blazer served me with a restraining order filed by my landlord. There was language requiring me to kick out my guests (a German couple) immediately after being served, but the judge had crossed out that section and initialed in the margin; I guess he found that part punitive. My lawyer later told me I would probably be forbidden to have roommates again, which in the pricey New York rental market is tantamount to eviction. Attached to the order was a complete printout of my Airbnb listing and all my reviews, included as evidence I had violated clauses in my lease. (Some leases, I have since learned, have evolved specific language prohibiting tenants from listing their pads on vacation-rental sites such as Airbnb.) I had flouted the same clauses back when I found roommates through Craigslist, but there I was just another anonymous roommate-to-be with grainy, sideways pictures of my kitchen.

The Airbnb printout looked idiotically flagrant by comparison; one page of the restraining order showed a big, pixellated image of my Facebook photo next to my Airbnb profile. I seethed at the social Web for making it so easy for the world's narcs to track me down. Then, I tweeted @airbnb about my predicament and immediately received an email that restored my faith: They graciously offered to re-book my remaining guests until I got my legal situation sorted out. I quickly wrote back: Yes, please. 

Jun 05 17:48 (PDT):

Not a problem. Our team will take care of them.



I’m due in Kings County Court on June 7th, Thursday morning.

Read the conclusion of this story here: My Airbnb Biz Got Me Evicted; Here's What I Learned.

[Image: Flickr user Alex E. Proimos]

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  • Al Leong

    AirBnB only works for property owners, or possib property management companies, not renters.

  • Jules

    I'm a renter - works great for me. I'm also a landlord of another property. I'm super picky about my airbnb guests.

  • Anna Gorlop

    that is why there is a special AirBNB insurance policy. I think it covers up to one million dollars in damages! Airbnb clones, like Wimdu, don't offer such insurance,and I think neither does Rentasofa. I think it is only fair, since Airbnb makes money on each rental, to provide insurance.

  • Meekan_00910723

    I lived in a beautiful new condo that I loved dearly. My neighbours seemed great too, that is until they turned their new condo into an AirBnB hotel. 

    The noise issues alone were ridiculous. People would knock on my door mistakenly. Often at the early hours of the morning (they had just got off a flight for example). There were often parties, people fooling around in the lobby of the building. I had lots of packages from fedex go missing that I never had problems before. Within 3 months I also discovered bed bugs. I can't prove it, but it's highly likely it was caused by the non-stop stream of people coming and going from the next door apartment.

    Four other people in the Condo went this route, using the AirBnB as a full time money making business. There was no community in the building, temporary residents didn't care. People would often stay with double the amount of people that could comfortably live in one of these small apartment.

    All of this made my life hell and I wish people could see what they are actually doing to a community when they create a business like this. Quick, easy money, but they screw all their neighbours in the meantime.

    Once in a while I have no problem with, either that or have a legitimate BnB where you live in the property and look after people, and are responsible for your guests.

    Peoples greed stinks.

  • anonymous

    I think it's good that Chris wrote what he did so that people know more about the risks around the activity of being an undercover amateur hotelier using airbnb for distribution purposes. 
    It's also good that landlords expressed their views and brought up the aspect of insurance,increased wear and tear, nuisance to neighbours and the rest of it. Fact is:  it's illegal in most cities of the developed world -to sublet your appartment (leases with landlords..). Main issues: wear and tear, insurance, neighbours-to offer undeclared B&B type services to visitors (mayor, city council). Main issues: safety, city planning, tourist taxes, disloyal (?) competition with hotels etc..-to evade taxes (IRS or equivalent). Main issues: You are earning money and the state wants a chunk of this.
    But Fact is also: If you wanted to have friends around in your place and you were simply offering hospitality while you are there or away, for weeks in a row or for 1 weekend per month, nobody could tell you off. 
    Not the landlord, not the mayor, not the IRS.

    So what's the difference: Money and...

    to a lesser extent frequency (yes agreed, it is unusual people have friends around the whole time, or changing friends every weekend)

    Do people that are not my friends (as in airbnb guests)
    a) make more noise than my friends? no
    b) carry a higher risk in setting the appartment on fire? no
    c) create more wear and tear? no 

    So the fact that you take money makes it illegal. Although the activty itself to a large extent is the same. You are providing shelter to somebody in a place where you are tenant, either with or without taking money. So is it that bad? 

    I guess it depends on intensity. Yes, relentless arrivals of new groups of visitors that walk up and down the stairs, bang doors, use loud trolleys dont speak the language etc could be a big nuisance. 
    But a quiet, discreet couple staying for one week? 

    Is 20k USD in 9 months really a full scale business? Can you say you can live off that money in NYC for 9 months? I doubt it. I consider what the author has done is simply to put some money aside. In my view, running a business is when you have employees, when you pay salaries etc. This is not the case with 20k. 

    So now that I have lost 90% of the readers of this blog - those with an alert on "airbnb" on google (sad?) for example, what is my point?  -)

    My point is:
    let's not be too harsh with people that are trying to make a better life for themselves and others without evidently harming anybody. This is the case for occasional subletting with minimum stay periods of 1 week say, in my view.

    I think Airbnb is great, as a host and as a guest, I have made new friends, been in and offered great  places. There are enough rules in this world, let's not add too many new ones, or we will not dare to move outside our doorsteps in future! 

    PS/ regarding insurance, my 2 cents to the story: my belief is we are over insured in many ways. I recently found out my credit card covered all my insurance for rental cars. So why have I been buying cover over 10 years spending thousands to make the Hertz and Avis of this world richer? 

    PPS/ We should have a discussion on carpooling and whether it is illegal to charge money to take people from A to Z when you are going from A to Z. Similar issues like responsability, insurance, IRS, car rental contract etc.

  • Melissa Shaw

    Writing this makes it pretty easy for NYS and the IRS to hit you for taxes you may not have thought about paying.  

  • John Lake

    You may as well e-mail them back and let them know it is not a temporary thing. As much you you are losing what tiny bit of credibility you may have HAD as a crappy blogger on a shitty site by writing this obviously paid for spam article, your landlord is WELL within his rights to refuse to allow you to rent out your place.

    It is not his fault that you don't have a REAL job (wone that actually pays the bills) and can;t afford your existence.

  • Michaelxyz

     Why do people like John Lake feel the need to capitalize all the letters of odd, random words like HAD and WELL and REAL when they write self-indulgent, hateful comments that are completely uncalled for?  And what would make anyone get so nasty and ugly in response to a story about someone renting out rooms on the internet?

    The answer is: BECAUSE they ARE emotionally damaged FREAKS who don't even understand THE simple rules that govern the use of capital letters in the English language, and can't even spell the word "one" correctly!  What a douche bag.

  • LizzyC

    Also, sheesh, the author and (former) Airbnb host Chris Dannon seems like a nice guy but incredibly naive for someone in business with a tech startup no less. He should understand that in ANY business (yes, making money off of renting your apartment to travelers is business) that you have to do your due diligence and have your A** covered or, well, he just found out what happens. That, my friends, is the difference between a baby entrepreneur and a professional one. 

    I also had to LOL at this line in the article, "I seethed at the social Web for making it so easy for the world's narcs to track me down." DUDE, but wasn't it the social web that allowed you to rent your place out and gross $20k in 9 months in the first place? CAN'T HAVE YOUR INTERNET CAKE AND EAT IT TOO BUCKO.

  • LizzyC

    What Rod said and then some. I'm also a landlord in addition to being an Airbnb user. I like the service when I travel. I've even acted as a guest host for a friend who owns and rents out her guest house in New Orleans on Airbnb. Landlord's insurance and homeowners insurance exist to keep tenants safe, to compensate tenants and guests in case of accidents and injury (like if the roof caves in or something), and to protect a property owner from things like personal injury lawsuits as well as financial damage to a property caused by accidents, tenant or visitor damages, etc. (oops, sorry I burned your kitchen down making coffee for my Aibnb Guests!) Insurance companies are VERY clear on what constitutes a tenant (and even a "guest" or "visitor"), and what is and is not covered, and what activities a tenant can and can not conduct on a property in order for the landlord and property to be covered by insurance. Many commercial activities a tenant does on a property are not covererd and most leases have a section on this.

    According to my own insurance company (I had thought about renting my own places out for Airbnb) neither landlord's nor homeowner's insurance covers bed and breakfasts (which is basically what Airbnb is), or a tenant subleasing out a property (why so many landlord's require any roommates of lease holder to also be on the lease).

    As a user of Airbnb I also had concerns last year about my personal property. I was staying in a great place in SF, but there were no locks on the bedroom doors. I didn't even think about it, but my traveling companion did. His thoughts? Say another guest walks off with my Ipad, Laptop, and jewelry or something. Is the Air b n B Host responsible for negligence? How would I even make an insurance claim and police report?

     I brought up this question to Airbnb last year after there was a big hooey in one of their rentals when an Airbnber totally trashed an apartment in SF and it made news headlines. I also raised the question if a "guest" is injured on an Airbnb property, who is responsible? Is a landlord vulnerable to lawsuits because of a tenant renting the property on Airbnb? What sorts of insurance do home owners and renters who are renting out for Airbnb need to cover their butts? My answer, sadly, from Airbnb, was what I can only describe as "Thank you for your concern" corporate PR spin - they completely avoided the question.

    Like I said, I do like airbnb, and realize everything in life has risks, but as a landlord, no way in heck I'd be happy if a tenant was renting my property out on Airbnb. It's just too risky. I'd evict them asap. As for Airbnb, It will probably take a lawsuit for them to get their heads out of the sand and deal with this matter with their hosts and guests. It's a great service, but right now is pretty much just an underground B & B service that in many cases and cities is illegal due to lack of property business licenses, permits, and yes, insurance. And, as we see in this article, renters acting as Airbnb hosts are also taking a big risk with their landlords. I expect we'll see more Airbnb hosts get called out on this.

  • Rod Edwards

    LizzyC - great comments! You know more about it than I do, having seen it from both sides.

    Interestingly enough, AirBnB announced damage coverage for the renter sometime in the last few weeks. See:

    I don't believe that covers liability for injuries to guests, however, or any number other possibilities - seems to speak to the stolen laptop concern best.

  • Anjali Mullany

    Do you think insurance companies should create a new kind of insurance for these Airbnb-type of arrangements? Would that solve some of the problem?

  • LizzyC

    They already have an insurance out there for these types of arrangements, it's called Commercial Business Insurance for Bed and Breakfasts.. It exists. But a renter who is acting as an Airbnb host still needs permission from their landlord, and the proper city approvals and permits to rent the damn apartment out on Airbnb in the first place. And Landlords would need to get different insurance that is Commercial Insurance specific for a bed and breakfast, not RESIDENTIAL landlord's or homeowners insurance. And in order to get the proper insurance, and insurance company will want items such as zoning (can a residential property even be used as a bed and breakfast?), business licenses, permits from the city, etc. And, most residential properties are not zoned for commercial use of this type so the renter won't be able to get them for the insurance company. In addition, several cities (including New Orleans and NYC) require that all bed and breakfasts pay special permit fees and taxes, and be registered with the city. So, in essence, insurance is not the real issue here. Running a legitimate, approved and above board business that can then be properly insured is the issue.

    I'm really not super uptight, I just know in business and in renting out property how risky it is and how much can be at stake. It only takes one A-hole to sue to ruin it for everyone.

  • Michaelxyz

     No you're not super uptight at all, just because you ramble on and on about commercial insurance policies and special permit fees.  That''s very relaxed and normal.  It really is.

  • Anjali Mullany

    Thanks for the thoughtful response. In this case the writer was a frequent Airbnb host -- I wonder what is going through the minds of occasional Airbnb hosts who open up their homes just once or twice a year when it comes to all these issues - insurance, etc.