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Airbnb rentals 'dangerously' crowded, senators say

New York state senators release a report describing illegal "rentals of doom" that feature air mattresses crowded into kitchens and beds stuffed into laundry rooms.

Airbnb launched an ad campaign in New York City in 2014 with positive posters in the city's subways.

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"Fenton Lounge" first caught lawmakers' notice in 2015. It was a two-bedroom house in the Bronx, New York, posted on home-rental site Airbnb that was touted as a party pad equipped with music and a stripper pole. After complaints from neighbors, Airbnb took down the listing. Then, a few months later, "Fenton Lounge 2.0" popped up.

"Fenton Lounge 2.0" is the subject of a report (PDF) released Monday by New York state senators Jeff Klein and Diane Savino and senator-elect Marisol Alcantara. The report, "Tourist Tenements in the Making," goes after certain Airbnb rentals. Rather than advertising itself as a party place, "Fenton Lounge 2.0" now just says it can accommodate up to 16 people, which is in violation of state and city housing codes. According to the report, "Fenton Lounge 2.0" is just one of 110 such listings throughout New York City.

"This truly is a case of Airbnb and the rentals of doom," Senator Klein said in a statement. "It's frightening to see listings where guests are offered dangerous accommodations... We must take legislative action to prevent potential tragedy that could occur from illegally packing people into spaces and hold sites like Airbnb accountable."

Airbnb is a home-rental marketplace, founded in 2008, that's gone from catering to couch surfers to having a massive online presence. It now has more than 2 million listings with hosts in more than 34,000 cities in nearly 200 countries. It is also one of the world's richest startups with more than $2 billion in investor funding. While the site can help people earn money by renting out their home, lawmakers in the US and Europe have raised concerns about Airbnb's alleged lack of consumer safety.

For its part, Airbnb says hosts like "Fenton Lounge 2.0" are rare and when it sees such behavior it takes down those listings. The company says it has removed nearly 3,000 listings in New York over the past year that didn't meet its standards.

"The overwhelming majority of hosts in New York share their own home as a way to earn a bit of extra money and keep up with the rising cost of living in the city," an Airbnb spokesperson wrote in an email. He said the company is eager to work with lawmakers "to find a sensible solution that will allow New Yorkers to responsibly share their primary home and crack down on commercial operators."

In their report, the New York senators say they found Airbnb rentals where air mattresses were stuffed into kitchens and beds were crammed into laundry rooms. Of the 110 rentals they investigated for overcrowding, many were in violation of housing codes and one even offered accommodations for 32 guests. The Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement cited "Fenton Lounge 2.0" for several violations, including failure to provide fire alarm and sprinkler systems.

With the information gathered in their report, Klein, Savino and Alcantara are calling on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill passed by the state senate in June. The bill would only allow hosts to do short-term rentals of their entire house or apartment on Airbnb if they are present. The idea is to prevent commercial operators from running unlicensed Airbnb "hotels."

The senators say they are also planning to introduce another piece of legislation that would fine Airbnb and similar companies for allowing illegal units to be advertised on their sites.

"Cramming tourists into kitchens lined with air mattresses or lining up beds next to washers and dryers is nonsensical. It might be a cheap way to stay in New York City, but it certainly isn't legal or safe," Senator Savino said in a statement. "We need to ban one- and two-family homes from turning into dangerous short term rentals and stop companies like Airbnb from advertising places that already violate the law."