new york hostel

Photo: Gabriel Rodríguez/Flickr

A new bill could make youth hostels legal again in New York City, five years after a state law combating illegal hotels accidentally snuffed the hostel industry.

City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Queens) introduced a bill yesterday that would allow dormitory-style lodgings with four to eight beds in each room, shared bathrooms and communal eating areas. Under bill Intro. 699, licensed hostels would be authorized to open in commercial areas and would be regulated by the city Department of Consumer Affairs, Capital New York reported.

Weprin has presented the bill as an opportunity to capture tourism money from young budget travelers who would rather spend cash on food and entertainment in New York than pricey hotel stays.

Feargal Mooney, the CEO of hostel booking service HostelWorld.com, consulted with city officials on the bill. “People they they are young students, they don’t spend a lot of money, but our research says they do spend a lot of money,” Mooney told the New York Daily News. “They’d rather spend it on shows, tours and restaurants [than on their hotel]… Travelers aren’t going [to New York] because they just can’t get affordable accommodations.”

To city officials, hostels also present a preferable alternative to controversial short-term rental service Airbnb, which allows people to rent out their homes (read more about Airbnb policies in major US cities here). In a report released October 2014, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman contended that a good 72 percent of Airbnb listings in New York City violated zoning and tax laws.

Ironically, the lack of hostels in the city today is partially due to a 2010 state law designed to stamp out residential apartments renting as illegal hotel rooms on Airbnb and other platforms. Passed in July 2010, the law forbade rental stays shorter than 30 days, the New York Times reported.

At the time, some operators of hostels or single-room occupancy establishments worried that the legislation would negatively affect them. “We provide jobs; we collect revenue; we pay our hotel occupancy tax,” Ronnie Oved, who owns Central Park Hostel and Hotel 99 in the Upper West Side, told the Times. “And we bring people to the city.”

A Department of Buildings bulletin issued April 2013 states that “hostel-type accommodations are considered to be illegal rooming units, pursuant to Section 27-2077 of the Housing Maintenance Code, except for certain grandfathered units and units operated by non-profit institutions and city agencies.” A hostel is defined as a “Class B occupancy consisting of (i) the rental of sleeping spaces (beds) to two or more individuals in the same dwelling or sleeping unit on a transient basis, with rent charged or collected separately from each individual occupant of the dwelling unit, or (ii) any transient accommodation with common or shared bathing and/or toilet facilities.” Hostel-type accommodations created before April 30, 1956 are permitted to operate under the lodging house requirements of the Multiple Dwelling Law, which prescribes standards for minimum spacing between beds, minimum aisle widths between rows of beds, exit stair safety and fire protection.

In 2013, a similar bill to allow the development and operation of for-profit hostels with city oversight was proposed, Law360 reported. The bill, which failed to pass, aimed to establish a special city office to license and regulate hostels.

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