Ronit Cohen was living with her son in a two-room apartment on Tel Aviv’s Nahmani Street for nine years when she recently learned her lease wasn’t being renewed. By her account she was a reliable and cooperative tenant and she couldn’t understand her landlady’s decision.
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Then one day she suddenly realized why. Cohen had complained about the landlady’s other apartment, adjacent to hers, which was being rented out to tourists via Airbnb. The unit had rented out to someone with the understanding he would sublet it to tourists and Cohen had complained about it.
“My apartment faces the entrance of the building and people were constantly coming and going and shouting. At 2 in the morning, at 4, every hour, it was terrible. They would rent it to people who drank and used drugs – they didn’t care about us. The neighbors and I complained but they ignored us,” Cohen recalls.
Cohen’s problem isn’t unique, especially for people living in Tel Aviv. That person who had rented the apartment had others he was also renting and subletting through Airbnb.
There are no exact data about the extent of the Airbnb phenomenon in Israel, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of how widespread the phenomenon has become – and how it is making life difficult not only for the hotels that have lost guests but nearby residents who have to suffer the noise and traffic.
For foreign tourists and Israelis alike, Airbnb has become an attractive, low-cost alternative to staying in a hotel or hostel.
It’s also an easy way for Israelis to earn extra income or even run an informal hotel business. The number of properties listed in Israel on Airbnb has grown from about 17,000 in 2015 to 26,000 in July 2017, the last date for which figures are available.
“The minute I hear that my parents are traveling abroad or I know of a friend who’s traveling and is leaving an empty apartment he doesn’t want to sublet himself, I love to take his place and list my apartment with Airbnb,” said Sagi, who has a two-room apartment on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard.
His apartment is renovated and in a central location, so Sagi says he can charge 500 shekels ($142) a night. The apartment sleeps three and even four with an inflatable mattress. “Where could they find such a clean and orderly place like this for three people?” he asked.
Liran, a Jerusalem resident, does much the same thing. “The minute I buy a ticket or know what days I won’t be in the country, I list on Airbnb or sublet some other way, like Facebook. There’s never a time when I got to the airport without knowing my apartment is making money for me,” she said.
Figures Airbnb provided TheMarker show 177,000 Israelis and foreign tourists used Airbnb in 2015 to rent an apartment. This year the number has reached 300,000 through July and will probably be double the 2015 figure by the time the year is over.
The average visit to an apartment rented through Airbnb is five nights, which will add up to 2 million overnight stays this year. That is a big loss for Israel’s hotels, which in 2016 hosted guests for 22 million overnight stays.
But it’s understandable why budget-conscious tourists prefer Airbnb. A price comparison conducted by TheMarker comparing its rates with those posted on the travel website booking.com showed Airbnb rates similar to those at hostels. For instance, a two-room apartment in Tel Aviv’s bohemian Florentin neighborhood could be had for 330 shekels a night during the intermediate days of Sukkot next week. A studio on Rothschild for the same dates was available for 250 shekels per night.
Airbnb said problem tenants are a small minority. “More than 200 million guests have reserved through Airbnb and the number of negative incidents is very small. Most guests respect their neighbors and when incidents do occur we are alerted about them and act quickly to correct the problem and remove problematic guests from our community,” the U.S. company said.
However, that hasn’t been the experience of Guy, a resident of the Carmel Market area. For many years he lived close to a nursery school and accepted the daytime noise it involved. That was until a few weeks ago.
“Suddenly there was no more noise from children during the day from the building, but the noise of adults went on all day and all night. Someone had bought the property and turned it into a vacation apartment for short-term rental via Airbnb,” he said.
More than a few times he has called the police over late-night noise. “I see them [the guests] from my bedroom window. They’re young people who want to enjoy Tel Aviv and I get that, but the apartment they rented is in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood and people want to sleep,” said Guy. “It’s not a place for a midnight barbeque.”