Williamsburg Tops List of City's Cheap Apartments on Airbnb Rental Site

By Meredith Hoffman on December 12, 2012 7:02am 

WILLIAMSBURG — When his roommates moved out this fall, Richard Redwine turned their two bedrooms into full-time guest rooms he posted on the hotel-alternative site Airbnb. Charging guests from $75 to $130 a night to stay in the loft, Redwine hoped to meet diverse new people and make extra cash to renovate his apartment.

Now, he has hosted two photo shoots by Airbnb visitors, made international friends, and is getting constant emails from people seeking to stay at his "Authentic Williamsburg Loft," he said. 

"I get messages every day...demand is crazy," said Redwine, 30. "To young people from around the world, Williamsburg is the place to stay."

Redwine is not the only one to capitalize on the trend — more than 1,500 Williamsburg residents have posted their apartments on Airbnb, the second-highest number of the popular site's neighborhood listings after Midtown Manhattan's tourist hub. 

For more affordable rooms ($200 or less per night), Williamsburg beats all neighborhoods, including Midtown, for its selection.

Airbnb's offerings in Williamsburg range from loft accommodations like Redwine's to new condos by the waterfront.

And the website's popularity in North Brooklyn — where hotels are still scarce but new apartments are on the rise — is unsurprising for both social and economic reasons, said Redwine, a boutique film festival organizer and electronic-music party host. 

Redwine — who pays between $4,300 and $4,500 monthly for his apartment, including utilities, and has one full-time paying roommate — would stand to make $4,500 monthly if he rented out both rooms every night.

But he said his price tag is affordable compared to many other Airbnb rentals. And he noted that both rooms are not always full, since he only chooses guests that would be a good fit for the apartment.

"I pick people who are fun," he said from his living room, where Santa hats are strewn on the couch by a Christmas tree adorned with with kitschy ornaments. "Like, if there's a fashion photographer coming in from London, I'll have that person."

Redwine, who said he welcomes his guests for beers and meals with his local friends, noted that costs and responsibilities include providing bathroom supplies (like "fancy soaps"), maintaining the spaces and spending the time to be a good host. 

"But that's part of it," said Redwine, who has gotten rave reviews from guests on Airbnb for being an "exceptional host" and "very helpful." In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, he said he had about 15 displaced friends living in his home.

"I like the idea of being able to welcome people from around the world," he said, "and to bring people together."

Other hosts in Williamsburg tout their lodgings as a more mellow and affordable version of what guests could get on the other side of the East River. 

Some, like Alissa (identified only by her first name on the site), play up the neighborhood's stereotypes to lure visitors on the website.

"Enjoy a more relaxed pace of New York in this casual yet sophisticated city neighborhood," she writes of her $125-per-night apartment rental in "the hipster capital of the world" with "an array of prospering misfits."

Another host, Jsun, whose room rents for $89 nightly, brags of the neighborhood's "most sought-after real estate in all of the 5 boroughs" and the "vintage/designer/hand-made clothing/accessories and furniture scene."

Hosts offer a mix of single rooms and full apartments for rent — although the full apartment rentals are not sanctioned by the city's law, which prohibits apartments from becoming hotels even in the short term.

Under NYC law, Airbnb hosts cannot rent out rooms for less than 30 days if they are not also staying in the apartment simultaneously.

Airbnb representatives said that the company was working toward a way to ensure their clients comply with the law.

"Airbnb is actively engaging in discussions to see if they can reach consensus on how to weed out truly bad actors and bad neighbors while protecting the many regular people who are participating in a responsible way that is good for their communities," the company said in a statement.

To Redwine, who remains in his apartment during rentals, Airbnb is ultimately about creating a community that transcends specific cities or countries.

"Williamsburgers are the ones using Airbnb in other places," he said, speaking of North Brooklyn residents traveling outside the city. "So they'll be open to having people. It goes with being hip, and being open."

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