You don't need to be a tourist to know how expensive it is to rent a hotel room in New York City. Those sky-high hotel prices have refueled a cottage industry. Apartment owners are looking to cash in, too, by renting out their places for short-term stays. But there's one big problem: it is illegal and potentially dangerous.
On any given day, illegal hotel operators accept visitors from around the world into their rooms at the fraction of the price of what it costs to stay in better known hotels. We don't know exactly how many short-term room rental businesses are operating in the city, but we do know they are illegal. And there a lot of them.
"It feels unsafe you never know who is in the building," said a concerned West Side tenant.
"They leave front door open... they don't care," added another worried tenant.
A quick search of websites dedicated to renting out rooms -- like Airbnb , HomeAway and Craigslist -- show thousands and thousands of residential rooms available. It was all supposed to stop in May 2011 when New York State made short-term rentals against the law. But a Fox 5 investigation revealed the problem has not stopped. In fact, some say it has become even worse.
A building employee on Driggs Avenue in Brooklyn openly admitted he hands out keys for short stays, usually just for a few days at a time. He told Fox 5 his boss owns 20 other buildings that all operate the same way
"The main difference between here and hotel is we don't charge you for the Internet and (we) give you (a) kitchen," he added.
One big difference he failed to mention: it's also illegal, just like New York Guest Services in Midtown Manhattan which acts as a clearing house for dozens and dozens of units around the city.
There, Fox 5 found hundreds of room keys lining the wooden cabinets; in a makeshift linen room, there were more sheets and pillows than you can count.
New York Guest Services sent us to a one-bedroom Midtown apartment; it could accommodate at least six people with two Murphy beds and a pull-out couch.
Fox 5 found illegal hotel rooms listed for as low as $29 per night compared with the Hilton New York Midtown at $279 a night.
The Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement is tasked with trying to get the problem under control; it has handed out 1,700 citations and issued 50 vacates since the law was enacted back in May.
None of the owners of the buildings we visited wanted to talk to Fox 5, including New York Guest Services.