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Mi casa es su casa Pay for your holiday vacation by renting out your empty abode

New York Habitat featured in Time Out New York
December 7-14, 2000
Section: Mi casa es su casa
Page 26-27

It's a few days before Christmas and you're all set to join the family back in the hinterlands. Your suitcases are bulging with the gifts that have strained your finances to the breaking point. On cue, your buzzer rings. It's the German couple who will be staying in your studio apartment while you're away. After a quick tour of the joint, it's time for an exchange: a set of your keys for $700 in cold, hard cash.

Nope, these strangers are not creepy Dicken-sian apparitions - they are vacationers who prefer real people's quirky homes to NYC's pricey, impersonal hotels. And you can earn big bucks by renting your vacant abode to them. Netting up to $150 per night (with the agency collecting an average 25-percent commission) for a one-bedroom isn't uncommon, and there's much more money to be scored if you're the lucky inhabitant of a loft or penthouse.

How to get in on the action? You do it by calling up one or more of New York's sublet services and, for no fee, listing your apartment. (Note: Many of these agencies call themselves "bed and breakfasts," but you're required to whip out the frying pan and coffee mugs only you're planning on staying in the apartment and renting out a room. If you're skipping town altogether, your subletters can forage for their own coffee and bagels.)

Wait a minute - what if Dieter and Heidi turn out to be kleptomaniac slobs? Frankly, there is a risk in boarding strangers. But before they move in, the "guests", as they're called in the biz, must cough up a security deposit; they will be reimbursed only after you (the "host") have inspected your pad to make sure that all is well. Sometimes it isn't. Michael recalls. Still, the hosts interviewed for this article -- even those who've had less-than-perfect experiences -- rave that short-term subletting is a great moneymaker.

If you'd like to take your chances and house some strangers for the holidays, you'll need to list your apartment right away. But even if now isn't the time, fear not -- short-term sublets are in demand all year round. And regard --

1. Get the lowdown on your landlord
Most subletting services we talked to seemed content to leave your landlord out of the deal and keep the whole thing hush-hush. But if you live under the roof of busybody building owners, subletting your place without their permission could be a lease violation -- and could lead to a major headache if you're caught. Then again, bucking the system is a time-honored New York tradition. If you've got an absentee landlord and a super who looks the other way at the comings and goings of your Aunt Mim and Uncle Lou, you're probably safe.

2. Make sure you're on the map
You've got a beautiful two-bedroom pad in the Bronx? Sorry. These services are interested mostly in Manhattan, but also the trendier neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens. Leslie Goldberg, owner of Bed & Breakfast Network in New York, says that gentrification has helped to expand his business: "If you had told me four years ago that you have a place on Avenue B and 5th Street, I would have said, 'No thank you'. Now I go see the place."

3. Break out the Windex
If you're the type who repairs broken windows with hunks of cardboard, your humble home is probably not the best subletting material. "I expect a clean apartment," says Petra Loewen, of Apartments Inc. "Rotten tubs and never-cleaned kitchens are not in my interest." If your apartment is a little grungy but still has potential, Apartments Inc. and some other services offer professional cleaning - at your expense. But your place doesn't have to be a flawless palace; funky apartments are often exactly what young tourists want.

4. Hide the family jewels
Expensive or sentimental possessions should be stored in a padlocked closet or drawer. "Obviously, if you have original Picassos and VanGoghs, they should not be left around," Goldberg says. (And if you do, why the hell do you need extra money, anyway?)

5. Neuter the phone and the TV
Before you go, put a stop on your long-distance service (Verizon charges $5 for cut-off, another $5 to reconnect). "We recommend to the guests that they go to any deli in the city and get a calling card," says Jim Quinlivan, of Habitat New York. As for your television, just put a block on pay-per-view; most services expect you to provide a TV, and sometimes cable access, too.

6. Pack up your pets
Your guests might be content to dole out that daily ration of chow, but in most cases you'll have to find a place to board dear old Fido or Puff. If you live with an animal, you may also be required to have your place professionally vacuum-cleaned, just in case you land a guest who's got allergies.

7. Enlist an associate
Agencies require you to provide the guest with the name of a person who can be contacted in case any difficulties arise, such as lost keys, so you'll want to designate a trustworthy, in-town friend for the job. You may also want to leave a checklist with your contact, who'll then be able to inspect the apartment after the guests have departed to make sure everything is hunky-dory.

8. Get yourself some insurance
Most services don't require you to have homeowner's insurance, but it's in your best interest to have some - in these lawsuit-happy times, a slippery bathtub can lead to a court battle. Most policies won't set you back more than a couple hundred dollars a year (the cash earned from a few nights' rent) and will also cover you in the event you're targeted by a cat burglar.

9. Provide do's and don'ts
Inform guests of your apartment's idiosyncrasies - reversed hot and cold shower nozzles, neighbors who freak out if the stereo volume exceeds 4 - and tell them if you'd like them to tend to such tasks as collecting the mail or feeding your goldfish. Ann, who frequently rents out her place, says guests understand that performing simple chores is part of their rental obligation. And to make sure they don't forget, she decorates her pad with explanatory notes, from how to use the VCR to reminders to water the plants. "Most guests are happy to do things like picking up the mail," says Sue, another host. "To us it's boring, but they get to experience what it's really like to live in New York."

10. Don't worry
What if your guests destroy the place? Look at it this way: Now you've got plenty of cash to redecorate!

New York Habitat
Unlike most sublet services, this one requires your landlord to approve any type of sublet. "If a person is a responsible tenant, a lot of times landlords are not as prohibitive as you might think," says Jim Quinlivan, director of operations for the company, which concentrates on Manhattan, but also handles apartments in some areas of Brooklyn and Queens. And by the way, your apartment had better look good when New York Habitat comes to inspect, because photos of your place go up on the company's extensive website (www.nyhabitat.com).
307 Seventh Ave between 27th and 28th Sts, suite 306 (212-255-8018). Subway: 1, 9 to 28th St.