Entrepreneurial New Yorkers Adore Renting Their Couches to Strangers

Beyond the trend of New York City residents renting out their apartments or spare rooms or even just their couches via the website Airbnb.com, there is a new trend: New Yorkers really, really enjoy doing this. Oh how they love it.

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If you live in a city, or have traveled to a city, or have happened upon this newfangled invention known as the Internet, you've probably heard of Airbnb.com. It's a site in which apartments are listed, generally by owner, for rental in various charming locales around the world. Using the website is one way to avoid the dreaded circumstance of relatives parking themselves in your very tiny home for a week or however long they plan to stay, as we discussed recently right here on The Atlantic Wire. (You can find them an even better pad than your own—some wealthy person's Midtown pied-à-terre, or perhaps a villa in Tuscany?) But the site is also being used to rent out space within apartments—like an extra bedroom, or even a couch. And beyond the trend of New York City residents renting out their apartments or spare rooms or couches via the website, there is a new trend, as reported in the New York Post: New Yorkers really, really enjoy doing this. But really, they love it. 

"East Villager Carol Williams," writes Carrie Seim in her piece in today's Post, "was not having a good August." Everything bad that could happen did: She lost her job, her husband was only partly employed, things were looking bleak! And then, suddenly, as luck would have it, a windfall came. A visiting friend from a far-off land, possibly a fairy godmother, suggested that Williams rent out her spare room, which had recently been vacated by her oldest son, on Airbnb. Empty nest/jobless situation thus resolved, the fun was only just beginning!

Williams has now made $18,000 by renting that spot in her 3-bedroom apartment to strangers. Along with money, she's gained friendships (so hard to make in our later years!), "career connections," and even "a renewed zest for life"; her husband, a musician, has gotten a few musically inclined roommates he can jam with. A win-win-win.

Not only is this a happy human interest story, it's a recession trend. These days, “It’s just like during the Great Depression — people do whatever they can to survive,” Williams tells Seim, so you gotta do what you gotta do, you know? Like renting out a room, or your couch, or a little of that floor space that's just lying around doing nothing to earn its keep. These are the new entrepreneurs, and it's all upside—except when, perhaps, an actual roommate or spouse who lives with you doesn't like it (as with the case of Mikey Rox, who simply adores renting out his place in Harlem, though his husband isn't such a big fan). Or when you live in a 275-square-foot place that doesn't have any space to rent out to a stranger (so unfair). When the stranger in your living room stops being polite and starts getting real. Or when your apartment rental scheme is shut down because of angry other residents in your building, or because it's technically illegal. Oh yeah.

As for that law ... a New York City law passed in May 2011 "prohibits most NYC renters from temporarily subletting their rooms." Enforcement of this law is sporadic at best, but it does exist. If you own, you might get around it if you pay taxes on what you earn by renting, as does Seth Porges, who tells Seim, "I feel safer with Airbnb guests than with a pizza delivery [guy] knocking on my door." Which is good, because the website's erstwhile reputation for guests leaving trashed houses and their meth pipes was a bit of a buzzkill.

Anyway, nobody tell Mayor Bloomberg about any of this, OK? It's all too much fun.

Image via Shutterstock by Stanislav Komogorov.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.