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Property law: Airbnb users fearful after American judge deems renting illegal

An American user of popular short-term property rental website 'Airbnb' has been fined by a New York judge who ruled that renting for fewer than 30 days was illegal according to state law, sparking fears among other users that letting their property might be illegal, reports the BBC.

Airbnb was founded in 2008 in California and was set up to allow homeowners and lessors the opportunity to offer their accommodation to the world at large over the internet.

The site shows property with bright, enticing photographs and simple descriptions, offering users the chance to rent a room, flat or house anywhere in the world from Brooklyn to Bodmin. The lessor greets tenants and provides keys, and receives a fee per night in return.

The allure of the site is compounded by the cheap fees offered by many users and the diverse nature of the accommodation available, with beachside houses in Ireland sat next to stunning apartments in the heart of Paris.

The site has had phenomenal success, spreading to the four corners of the globe, and has taken off particularly well in the UK in recent months. However, this could be set to change after a New York judge ruled that according to New York State law it is illegal to rent accommodation for fewer than 30 days.

New York resident and Airbnb user Nigel Warren was fined around £1,600 by the judge for subletting his apartment to a Russian tourist in December last year.

UK users observing the US court case could have good reason to fear for their continued profiting from the site as, although there is no equivalent law in the UK, commentators warn that there are potential legal pitfalls to short-term letting.

Stumbling blocks in the UK include mortgage terms prohibiting short-term letting and landlords banning subletting in lease agreements. There is also the health and safety aspect of short-term letting, including gas and electricity safety and home insurance.

Airbnb, who intervened in Mr Warren's case and are now considering an appeal, believe that short-term letting is here to stay and think the judgment was based on an erroneous interpretation of New York City law that they say was introduced to stop landlords running illegal hotels.

"We intervened in this case because it was so clearly contrary to the intent and text of the New York law, and we are already examining our options to appeal this ruling on Nigel's behalf," said Airbnb in a statement.


Airbnb seeks to reassure users after New York law warning (BBC News)