Ask The Groove: Is it illegal to sublet my apartment when i'm on vacation?

It's peak 'who wants to rent my place for four days over a holiday weekend?' season. Is it legal?

Ask The Groove: Is it illegal to sublet my apartment when i'm on vacation?
Want to stay in this quirked-up apartment goated with the kitchen bathtub? Well you can't do it for less than 30 days. (Photo via Flickr user Christopher Porter)
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Q: Every summer I start to notice people doing Close Friends stories that say something like "Hey! Who wants to stay in my gorgeous Astoria apartment (right by the Triborough Bridge) while I'm out of town from Aug. 7 to Aug. 13? Just $500!" But I thought you can't do that anymore. Is it illegal for any renter to sublet their apartment for less than 30 days at a time?

It's summer travel season, and maybe you want to get the best of both worlds, which is to say you want to take a trip and get someone to cover your rent at the same time. It used to be you could throw an ad on Craigslist and get your problem taken care of lickety split. But then people got a little out of control with taking apartments that should have been housing and turning them into Airbnbs and well, the next thing you know the city got serious enough to ban renting an apartment for less than 30 days last year.

But you're not running a shady apartment-as-hotel, you're just stepping out for a minute this summer. It doesn't matter: it's still illegal to rent out your place for a week or two according to the 2022 law.

The city's rules around short-term rentals are pretty straightforward, as laid out by the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement, the agency tasked with registering and regulating AirBnBs and other rental websites:

Short term rentals of dwelling units (rental for less than 30 days) are prohibited by the Multiple Dwelling Law, the Housing Maintenance Code, and the Construction Codes unless the permanent resident of the dwelling unit is present during the rental.

Don't want to hear the truth from me, a man who went to Hollywood Upstairs School of Law? Here, let a real lawyer tell you:

"It's apartment sharing, and you're supposed to be there when they're sharing the apartment with you," said Queens-based tenant lawyer Steven Ben Gordon.

That being said, short term rentals are out there. Airbnb data scraper site Inside Airbnb shows that 2,057 Airbnb listings in the city are both private homes and rent for less than 30 days. A brief look at Craigslist shows that even if the site's sublet section isn't the old bonanza of short-term rentals it once was, there are still a handful of people offering up a room for a week or two at a time, and your Instagram feed is rife with people trying to get someone to cover their rent while they're in ... where do you people go, Tulum still? Gordon says he gets it, but wouldn't recommend it.

"Are there people doing it? Of course, and if it's a one-off? It's a question of, you know, whether you get away with it."

The penalties for people who violate short-term rental registration rules are fines that range from $100 to $5,000 depending on how many offenses someone commits. But beyond the civil penalties, your landlord can also give you the boot for violating the terms of your lease if you take money to let someone stay at your place while you're not there.

"Landlords have gotten very very savvy in monitoring the use of their buildings and the use of their apartments. And with rents so high, if you're fortunate enough to have a rent-stabilized apartment, you really shouldn't do anything to risk that. And if you're in a free-market apartment, and the rent is reasonable, you don't want to risk that as well," Gordon said.

You are allowed to let someone stay at your place for free, if you're just trying to reward someone for watering your plants or feeding your snake; it's the money changing hands that's the issue. But there is one other way you can more easily take the risk of breaking the law, which is stick to word of mouth and letting friends crash at your place for a week or two, as one sneaky short-term renter told the Groove.

"The kind of subletting that I do is very friend-network stuff, I don't put my place like on any of the listing sites," one Bed-Stuy homeowner said.

"It's illegal under the Airbnb rules, but it's not something that keeps me up at night. I'm renting my place at deeply below market price to people that I know who need a place to crash."

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