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Police Seize 7 Vans Allegedly Used As Airbnb Rentals In Manhattan

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Getting a hotel in New York City can be pricy, so imagine, instead, paying a little less to sleep overnight in a van.

The New York City sheriff says several vans were being rented out on Airbnb but not anymore.

"It was just a big green van that was always there," East Village resident Jane Dorsey told CBS2's Lisa Rozner.

That van was one of seven impounded Thursday and Friday.

The sheriff's office worked with the NYPD's document fraud unit and discovered "an operation of alleged fraudulent and illegaly registered vehicles being used as Airbnb rentals."

Two were in Chelsea, with one having racked up almost $1,500 in parking violations dating back to December 2020.

Five were in the East Village. An overnight stay inside one of those van was posted on YouTube, which the sheriff says was part of the investigation.

"I still don't know if this is even legal," someone says in the video.

On Airbnb, the host, Nancy, said it could sleep three guests and called it a way to "experience the #VanLife in NYC!" For bathrooms, she listed locations like the local Starbucks and specific places open at night, like the Book Club Bar on East 3rd Street.

"A gentleman came in, asked to use the restroom," Book Club Bar employee Mathuson Anthony said.

A post online showed it went for as much as $97 a night in August.

"It's cheaper than my apartment," one Chelsea resident said.

"I was curious about how they could stay so long without being towed," East Village resident Delphine Le Goff said.

All the plates were from New Jersey, and one's registration expired 21 years ago.

The sheriff says it's under investigation who the owner or owners are of these vans.

"I haven't really liked the whole Airbnb thing taking over apartments on my block, so a van seems gross," East Village resident Matt Miller said.

"It does make sense why people would do that," East Village resident Michael Medina said.

Makes sense, he says, because as the vlogger who was a guest pointed out, the average hotel stay for a night in New York City is $400.

"I'm glad I did it, but I would never do it again," the vlogger said.

Now, no one may ever be able to.

An Airbnb spokesperson released the following statement:

"The Host and listings in question are no longer active on the Airbnb platform. In June 2020, we reached a robust information-sharing agreement with New York City, and subsequently began complying with the City's short-term rental data reporting law, which regularly provides the City with the insights it needs to effectively regulate short-term rentals. Enforcement of the law is the responsibility of the City, and it has the data needed to do so, in this case, likely for months."

Editor's note: This story first appeared on September 26, 2021.

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