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City Council Proposal Would Legalize Hostels Amidst Tourism Boom

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Hostelling International’s American Youth Hostel on the Upper West Side (Ana Paula Hirama / Flickr)

A City Council bill seeking to legalize hostels will be introduced Wednesday as part of a renewed push to give tourists more affordable stay options.

Hostels, with their multi-bed dorm room-style layouts, have long been favored by frugal travelers all over the world. But there are only a handful in New York City, largely due to a 2010 state law prohibiting New Yorkers from renting out entire apartments for under 30 days if the tenant on the lease is not present. Although the rule was meant as a crackdown on short-term rentals made popular by Airbnb, because hostels do not have an official classification under the city’s building codes, they have been forced to abide under the same standards as apartments. As a result, most hostels in New York City classify themselves as hotels.

The latest bill, which is co-sponsored by Council members Mark Gjonaj and Margaret Chin, would give hostels their own classification and establish a regulatory agency for them. A hostel would be defined as any building with more than 70% of its rooms set aside as hostel units. Operators would be required to apply for a special license.

“If you can stay in high-end hotels, thank you for visiting, come back again. But we want to afford opportunities for those with modest means,” Gjonaj told the Wall Street Journal.

This is the second attempt at such legislation. In 2015, Chin introduced a similar bill that never came to a vote.

In a statement to the WSJ, Josh Meltzer, head of Northeast Policy for Airbnb, said the home-sharing company hoped that legislators are willing to “extend the same courtesy of clarity to their many tens of thousands of constituents who rely on home sharing.”

Council Speaker Corey Johnson said he would review the legislation.

Hostels can be significantly cheaper than traditional hotels. The average daily rate of a hotel in New York City is $262.31, according to a recent analysis. In contrast, a recent search on the website for the nonprofit organization Hostelling International on the Upper West Side, the city’s only true hostel which was awarded a special permit in 1989, showed rooms available in August for as little $50 a night.

The legislation comes as New York City experiences a record-breaking nine-year-period of tourism growth. In 2018, 65.2 million people visited the Big Apple, with most of those being domestic tourists. Among foreign visitors, the biggest numbers were from Great Britain (1.24 million) and China (1.1 million).



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