Yesterday, Brooklynite Chris Dannen told the tale of how he made $20,000 from renting his spare rooms out on accommodations marketplace Airbnb—that is, before his landlord hit him with a restraining order. His landlord, meanwhile, having realized the potential of Airbnb, has already started renting out multiple apartments on the service, treating his real estate more like a hotel than a residency. Now the matter is headed to court.
Readers had varied reactions to the story: Some considered Dannen a bit naïve for believing his Airbnb activity was sustainable, while others found the landlord's actions excessive and off-putting. But Dannen's success on the service is not uncommon—in fact, it's below average: New York City hosts average $21,000 per year on the service.
Are landlord-tenant disputes becoming a problem for Airbnb's business? The San Francisco-based startup, which reportedly facilitated $500 million in transactions in 2011, says no. "We have successfully booked over 4 million nights in the last year alone, and developments like what you are describing have been extremely rare," says Airbnb spokesperson Emily Joffrion. "In fact, 90% of Airbnb hosts are renting only one property—their primary residences—and our most recent wave of growth has come from this demographic."
Most leases already include rules about sublets and roommates, and now landlords are "adding our terminology to their lease agreements in order to clarify their position on Airbnb related activity," Joffrion says.
Short-term rentals and corporate housing existed decades before couch-surfing came online, and to this day it's primarily controlled by professional property managers or landlords. Airbnb wasn't created to compete with that market. "Airbnb's value proposition is unique properties and individuals renting their homes—not corporate vacation rentals or cookie-cutter units," says Joffrion. "Our website is not intended for use by professional property managers with several properties, and this demographic is not our focus."
As for Dannen's situation and others who might have had similar experiences, Airbnb recommends being as upfront as possible with the landlord. "It is very similar with what has happened in rental apartments for years: tenants bring in roommates, have temporary guests, sublet during the summer while they are away, and so on," says Joffrion.
Airbnb does have formal relationships with landlords who have become hosts. And Joffrion says that, "landlords are actually becoming more understanding about this activity." The company's $1 million host guarantee is likely helping make it more tenable.
That said, Dannen could lose his access to this part of the sharing economy when he appears before a Kings County judge next week.
[Image: Flickr user Several Seconds]