Is Airbnb Legal Where You’re Going?

Don't take a chance on your dream vacation — make sure your rental is legal.

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If you’ve planned a vacation in the past five years, you are likely all too familiar with the long and often challenging process of finding the perfect place to stay. In many cases, your first step will be checking Airbnb for a cool house in your city of choice.

You may have also been supremely disappointed when your listing mysteriously disappears days out from the trip, with the host nowhere to be found. This might sound extreme, but cities are scrambling to regulate the housing market situation caused by short-term person-to-person rentals through sites like Airbnb.

In many cities, the majority of listings are not compliant with local housing laws, and the hosts might be subject to massive penalties if they’re discovered. You don’t want to be in the middle of that. Instead, do your research and figure out if Airbnb is legal at your destination before you book.

Which Cities Are Cracking Down on Airbnb Rentals?

While Airbnb is not outright banned in these locations, some cities have strict regulations for Airbnb hosts that reduce the number of available residences. Check out some of the most popular destinations affected by this legislation.

Los Angeles

In December 2018, the City Council passed a law stating that Airbnb hosts may only rent out their primary residences, legally defined as where they live for more than six months of the year. Stays can not last more than 120 days, so trying to find an apartment in LA through Airbnb might not be a great idea. In July 2019, Airbnb became illegal for investors. If you’re looking to become an Airbnb host, LA might not be the place.

New York

In 2016, New York City made it illegal for non-resident hosts to rent out an entire apartment for less than 30 days at a time. Permanent residents of the city can rent for less time, but they must be in the house with you during your stay. This is not great for travelers who value privacy. If that sounds like you, try checking out some affordable hotels in New York.

Related: 11 Affordable Hotels in New York That are Surprisingly Nice

For now, this rule doesn’t apply to entire single-family homes.

Credit: Airbnb

Santa Monica

Santa Monica has some of the tightest regulations in the country on short-term rental properties. They were completely banned for years, but became slightly more accessible in June 2015 when the city started allowing home-sharing. The host must be on the premises during your stay, and users must pay an additional 14% transient occupancy tax on top of the price of booking.

San Francisco

Only full-time residents may rent properties in San Francisco, and even then there’s a 90-day maximum. Given the massive number of transplants and non-residents owning property in San Francisco, not many people qualify — as a result, they don’t register their rentals with the city as mandated by the law. As a result, many of the available rentals in San Francisco are technically illegal.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas has stopped issuing permits to any residence that isn’t owner-occupied. Like San Francisco, there are not many permanent residents in Sin City, so this has put the vast majority of Airbnb rentals off the market.

You’re out of luck if you want a rental with more than three rooms or space for 12 or more guests. Rentals can not be within 660 feet of each other, and owners must stay on the property during your stay.

Related: 33 Gift Ideas for Travel Lovers in Every Price Range

Paris

Paris penalizes owners up to 25,000 euros when they rent out secondary apartments (ones they don’t live in). One cannot rent apartments for more than 120 days at a time, with a possible cap of 30 days in the near future.

Amsterdam

In response to the sudden influx of rental properties, Amsterdam hosts now have to add a tourist tax to the price of the booking. You can only rent primary residences, with the owner on the premises. Owners may only rent their residence out “occasionally,” with a four-guest maximum. As of 2019, stays are capped at 30 days.

Barcelona

Barcelona is very strict with Airbnb rentals. After imposing a host registration rule, the city managed to remove over 2,500 Airbnb listings that lacked the correct licensing or violated other housing rules. Vacation apartment owners pay the highest rate of property tax, usually tacked on to the price of your stay.

Credit: Airbnb

What’s the Difference Between an Illegal Airbnb and a Scam Airbnb?

Illegal and fraudulent Airbnbs are not one and the same, but many of the signs are similar and may have similar consequences for your travels.

An increasing number of Airbnb scams have sprung up recently, which has forced Airbnb to change its terms of service and crack down on hosts who are breaking the law or their agreement with Airbnb. Before you get locked into a booking in that dreamy high-rise condo on the Lower East Side, check to make sure that it’s legit.

A host that uses false pictures, pressures you into booking directly through email or anything else out of the ordinary is likely a host who is skirting the housing code in their city. These are good measures to take regardless of the site’s legality at your destination, but you should take extra precautions if you’re visiting a heavily-regulated area.

Alternatives to Airbnb

If reading this has made you second guess using Airbnb for your upcoming vacation, there are many other booking services available. There are comparably unique and cozy options available for those of us who have grown spoiled by the amenities of living in a fully furnished home and who no longer wish to stay in a faceless corporate hotel. You can also look around online for a more traditional bed and breakfast, many of which have been around since before Airbnb existed.


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Oliver Pretl-Drummond

Oliver Pretl-Drummond is a writer and Scorpio living in Baltimore, Maryland. They are weak for hot deals on niche kitchen appliances and they're forever on the hunt for cheap travel and lodging. When they're not surfing for bargains, you can find them writing about little-known historical narratives and the occult for Ranker. They are always down to talk about Baltimore history, printmaking and bass music.

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