New York Police Seize Several Vans Being Sold As Lodging on Airbnb

On Thursday and Friday New York City executed an operation to seize vehicles being rented out as lodging on Airbnb. The vans were often advertised for around $100, lacked bathroom or shower facilities, and racked up tickets for being illegally parked. Guests would receive keys to get into the vans for sleeping, but those keys didn’t start the engines. The law enforcement operation was dubbed “Operation Room Service.”

Police were tipped off to the ‘Airbnb inside a van’ by a recent YouTube review of a room without bathroom or air conditioning for rent.

Other Airbnb lodging vans were noticed by traffic enforcementa la Son of Sam – for expired license plates and registration (“some going as far back as 2000”).

Oddly the phenomenon is hardly new, and has been garnering attention for years. Business Insider vans and even taxis being sold as New York City rooms on Airbnb back in 2015. Some people even argued this was legal – as long as the vehicle was legally parked – since there’s no law against sleeping in your car in Manhattan.

However once the vehicle becomes a rental, the commercial transaction takes it into the realm of city licensing, and there aren’t any licensed vehicles-as-lodging.

Nonetheless the idea got positive writeup in Gothamist in 2018 about a provider who didn’t offer a bathroom or shower in their van for rent, but did provide passes to a nearby gym to shower. So… law enforcement is just catching onto this now?

The crackdown is certain to win plaudits from a city council aiming to limit the number of rooms for rent in the city in order to make it a more expensive place to visit.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This Airbnb luxury overnight accommodation is an upgrade for American Airlines flight crews previously stranded to sleep on the airport floor. The only downside is your room might get towed or carjacked, and you could have an expensive destination, resort fee, or cleaning fee.

  2. I once rented an Audi in Vienna for sleeping overnight. I brought a blanket from the U.S. I did use the car for sightseeing. I parked the car overnight next to a university building, which is located on a quiet street 2 blocks from a busy street. I did not have any bladder problems so I could last from 9:30 pm to 6 am without a toilet. I had my own water for drinking and brushing teeth.

  3. There was a similar rental in Amsterdam – a boat (not a houseboat) with no running water or electricity. The owner provided a bucket and a referral to a nearby gym. It was a relative steal at $35 euro/night.

  4. This required an “operation?” I suppose no operation was deemed necessary to deal with the city’s out of control problem with non victimless crime?

  5. Stayed in a hippie VW Beetle that twirls on a post in southwest Texas, with access to an outhouse nearby and a more complete facility a little down the road. Some of the best stargazing you’ll ever find and lots of fun. And probably no NYC bureaucrats around to shut it down.

  6. This is great! No matter what terrific idea someone comes up with, such as Vacation Rentals, the bad guys are all over it in a week and ruin everything. Such a shame that we can’t use the Internet to facilitate travel plans without wondering if we’d be better off at a Motel 6.

  7. Another view, not quite so funny or snarky:
    This is potentially dangerous to the renter. Vehicles are stolen or broken into frequently.
    In addition, it takes up the scarce overnight parking spots for city residents

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