Airbnb Cleaners Left Scrambling For Leftovers Following New Law

Adesokan Oluwadamilola monitors a Facebook group full of fellow Airbnb cleaners and hosts (Credit: Alec Rich)

Adesokan Oluwadamilola monitors a Facebook group full of fellow Airbnb cleaners and hosts (Credit: Alec Rich)

Each time Adesokan Oluwadamilola cleans an Airbnb rental, it has to be perfect. To him, Airbnb cleanings are not just a way to stand out in a competitive industry, but a distinct craft that can make or break a visitor’s trip.

“Your cleaning has to appeal to a wide range of guests, people come from all over the world,” said Oluwadamilola. “So you just have to be consistent with how you detail. The presentation matters, that’s basically what sells the space.”

For the last several years, Oluwadamilola has used that meticulous approach to make a name for himself in New York City’s booming vacation-rental industry. After launching his own marketing and management company for Airbnb hosts in 2019, Oluwadamilola, a native of Lagos, Nigeria, added cleaning services to his portfolio during the COVID-19 pandemic. He expanded his business, Salutary Impact, across Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn, and quickly became inundated with near-daily cleaning jobs. He brought aboard two freelancers to help him meet the demand.

But since enforcement of the city’s new Short-Term Rental Registration Law began on Sept. 5, Oluwadamilola has watched his aspirations evaporate. With cleanings once making up around 60 percent of his business, he now has less than seven bookings remaining for the year — with no new clients in sight.

“It just drives me crazy to think that you could just wake up and all that is just taken from you,” Oluwadamilola said. “Simply because some people feel you’re the problem.”

Oluwadamilola is just one of many with a stake in the city’s vacation rental cleaning industry that’s been upended since the new law, also known as Local Law 18, went into effect. In January 2022, New York City adopted the Short-Term Rental Registration Law, which was meant to curb the thousands of illegal short-term vacation listings throughout the five boroughs.

The law requires hosts to register their rentals with the city along with a slew of other regulations, such as mandating that hosts stay in the same apartment as their guests and setting a limit of two guests per rental.

Despite a lengthy legal challenge from Airbnb, a judge upheld the law last August, clearing the way for enforcement to begin.

In the time since, those working as cleaners for Airbnb posters said a marked shift has overtaken the workers of a small but specialized industry that already faced challenges because of pandemic restrictions.

With thousands of short-term rentals now shuttered, and many others waiting in limbo as the city sifts through a backlog of registration applications, the cleaners who service those rentals are bracing for the worst.

“Their business model either has collapsed or they have had to diversify their business model into a typical home cleaning, office cleaning,” said Michael Dimopoulos, who founded Lazy Susans Cleaning Service in 2017.

As recently as five years ago, Dimopoulos said, Lazy Susans had around 40 consistent Airbnb clients (leading to upwards of 50 room cleanings a week). Between the pandemic and this legislation, he now estimates the company has just four Airbnb clients left. His company also offers residential and commercial cleaning services.

Compounding the issue is the mounting backlog of applications for short-term rentals that the city’s Office of Special Enforcement (OSE) is tasked with approving. Without that stamp of approval, hosts are not allowed to return to the market.

According to data supplied to Columbia News Service by the OSE, as of Oct. 9, the OSE had reviewed just 35% of the more than 4,700 applications it had received at the time. Of those reviewed applications, the OSE had granted 481 and sent more than 900 back to applicants for additional information.

Christian Klossner, executive director of the Office of Special Enforcement, said in a statement that the office received “nearly half” of the total applications it’s sifting through now following the Aug. 8 court ruling. He did not respond to questions regarding cleaners but emphasized the importance of the process.

“Registration creates a clear path for hosts who follow the City’s long-standing laws and protects travelers from illegal and unsafe accommodations,” Klossner said.

As demand for their Airbnb rose, they had to employ several cleaners to keep up with the usual three turnovers per week. But Donnetta Johnson said the economic “ripple effects” of the new law have been profound already, taking away cleaners’ ability to create their own work schedules and earn an independent source of income.

“They may go off to work for the big hotel chains, but then the flexibility, the ability to take care of one’s family, to be home for dinner, to be home for school pickup, is erased,” she said.

Proponents of the law, including the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council and a majority of the City Council, maintain that the need to address the housing and affordability crisis justifies the Airbnb crackdown. And in interviews, current and former lawmakers noted that the enforcement will only help to legitimize the work of freelancers, like many cleaners, who can lobby the City Council for stronger protections down the line.

But for cleaners like Oluwadamilola, the path forward remains uncertain as he considers both a pivot to commercial cleaning and new marketing ventures.

“The many years of hard work that’ve been put into this, it just seems as if this is going to be taken,” Oluwadamilola said. “So nothing is promised, that’s what it means.”

About the author(s)

Alec Rich is a student at Columbia Journalism School and a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.