Is That Suspiciously Nice Rental an Airbnb in Disguise?

How to spot an “Airbrb,” a new league of rentals springing
up in coronavirus-era NYC.

I move too much. A series of events — a new job, a hostile
roommate, restlessness — led me to live in four apartments in two
years. These narrow escapes got me into the habit of looking at
Craigslist and Listings Project and Zillow at least a few times a
week, just in case I have to pack up again. In my search for the
spectacular yet affordable dream apartment, one with 20 years of
rent stabilization and a separate kitchen as opposed to a patch of
cheap tile in the corner of a living room, I’ve noticed a new
league of homes in New York City’s COVID-19-era rental market:
“Airbrbs,” what I call the slew of Airbnbs recast as
rentals.

Without the usual tourists — and even after the company

bailed out its hosts
— the city’s Airbnb hosts have taken
on the mantle of landlord to attract local renters until the
vacation rental market bounces back (Airbrbs, you see). Most
listings don’t admit the truth about their recent past, but
Airbrbs are like obscenity: You know them when you see them. And
their sirenlike promise of free housecleaning and designer
furniture is both intriguing and repulsive.

Once I noticed this phenomenon, I couldn’t stop obsessing over
it. I found myself with one tab open to Craigslist’s
“apts/housing for rent” map and another showing Airbnb’s map
view, seeing if I could spot any overlap. Some of these Airbrbs
state their origins explicitly, like this
place in the East Village
that was formerly a “high-end
Airbnb.” The overbearingly themed décor also gives it away: It
features a “historical European Style of design,” as the
listing puts it, which means about ten lamps per room, taper
candles everywhere, and a framed print of Vermeer’s Girl With a
Pearl Earring.

Other listings that appear on both rental sites and Airbnb.com
make it clear that some hosts turned landlords are unprepared for
the rental market they’re entering, optimistically asking for
rents that would rival the income they’d make hosting a parade of
short-term visitors. At a time when landlords are
slashing rates and offering perks
to pull in new tenants,

this East Village one-bedroom
, listed on Craigslist
and Airbnb
, comes equipped with a sofa-daybed, a working
claw-foot tub in the entryway, and no kitchen sink (according to
its Airbnb reviews), is asking $1,950 a month. Just blocks away,
apartments with full kitchens and bathroom amenities where you’d
expect them are going for
a similar rate
or
even less
.

Unlike many rentals hitting the market, Airbrbs are furnished,
albeit sparsely. There are no more than 25 books on the shelves,
probably artist monographs or city guides, and the sofa is the

second-least-expensive option
from Ikea. There are four mugs,
four plates, and four bowls in the cupboards. It is uncluttered. It
is clean. If you see a dish of cat food next to the fridge, it is
not an Airbrb.

Additionally, an apartment with a sense of interior design may
very well be a suspect. Think Knoll chairs, pink walls, vintage
prints, and
Danish mid-century furniture
— classics of the Airbnb Plus
genre. Neon signs reading “relax” are also a giveaway, as are
New York–themed posters and maps, monstera plants, and textile
wall hangings, which make it seem as if the owner has spent their
entire budget on Etsy.

These Airbrbs will often offer month-to-month rents, sometimes
with the option of yearlong leases, but promise nothing beyond
that. A typical listing reads: “A
1-3 month arrangement
with option to extend month-to-month is
preferred, but different agreements are possible for the right
tenant.” It’s clear that these places will be converted back
into Airbnbs if and when our coronavirus moment passes — once a
vaccine appears and Broadway reopens. (One landlord told me exactly
that, admitting that she’d been renting through Airbnb until
March.)

Perks are another obvious Airbrb giveaway. Monthly cleaning
services or free toiletries (one now-expired listing offered

Malin+Goetz
built-ins) may be important to vacationers but are
abnormal offers for longer-term tenants. An emphasis on providing
sheets and other textiles should also raise suspicion — rolled
bath towels
arranged on a comforter give me pause. If I can
avoid using a stranger’s pillowcase, I will.

It may also be a sign if the listing parties write that they
live downstairs or nearby, or note that they “love to travel.”
Airbrbs are offered “by owner,” not by a broker, and the
authors’ self-descriptions display some of the chumminess that
Airbnb encourages, noting the apartment’s proximity to tourist
attractions like Times Square or the Friends house — details that
long-term renters typically wouldn’t include. The apartments tend
to be in impressive neighborhoods that
Airbnb would describe as “bohemian, historic, [and] hip.”

Airbrbs are also crammed with beds —
pullout sofas
, daybeds, bunk beds, and air mattresses — which
helped bump them into the “sleeps four” category of the Airbnb
website.

I admit to being tempted by some of these Airbrbs. What would it
be like to live in someone else’s carefully curated getaway? But
even the ones that have style — jewel-green walls or velvet sofas
— are someone else’s taste, not my own. I imagine myself
gingerly handling the vintage record players and
Sonos sound systems
, worried about breaking off a knob. Then
there’s the question of whether I’d be able to keep the plants
alive. But it’s nice, in a way, that so many Airbnb hosts have
decided to leave their Le Creuset teakettles and PlayStations
behind, because we all really need them right now, and I can’t
find a Nintendo Switch anywhere.

Source: FS – All – Architecture 10
Is That Suspiciously Nice Rental an Airbnb in
Disguise?