US: A so-called “Wolf of Airbnb” has been charged with wire fraud and identity theft in New York, in a scheme that saw him generate an alleged $1.2 million in rental income.
Konrad Bicher, 31 and from Florida, was arrested in June but was charged by federal prosecutors in New York last Thursday. However, attorneys for Mr Bicher said that they would contest the charges and plead not guilty.
It was claimed that Mr Bicher signed at least 18 leases with landlords and put the units on Airbnb illegally himself, while also avoiding more than $1 million in rent payments in the process. It is further alleged that the defendant’s companies took out $565,000 in loans from the Paycheck Protection Program [a loan program that provided small businesses with funds to pay up to eight weeks of payroll costs including benefits] during the pandemic, despite the applications supposedly containing false information.
The scheme was uncovered earlier this year after a number of landlords accused Mr Bicher of dodging rent payments and claiming loans under false pretenses during the pandemic to gain an upper hand on other property owners in New York, although court records show that he denied reports that he was running an illegal short-term rental empire.
It is believed that the majority of the units rented out by Bicher are in Upper Manhattan and on the West Side, but two lawsuits have been thrown out since his original arrest as process servers were unable to find out where he was residing.
A spokesperson for Airbnb told Bloomberg in a statement: “This type of activity has no place on our platform, and we previously banned this host from Airbnb. We sought to cooperate fully with the FBI as part of its investigation.”
In New York, it is currently illegal to rent out an entire apartment on a short-term rental basis for fewer than 30 days and six years ago, the state also forbade the advertising of illegal short-term rentals.
New York City has long been at odds with Airbnb, and three years ago, the city subpoenaed the home-sharing platform for data on close to 20,000 listings in the area to ensure that hosts were complying with local short-term rental regulations.