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NYC tourists have been hungry for the real city experience while skirting NYC hotel prices. Illegal Airbnb camper van rentals have been checking the NYC boxes for tiny space, smelly, and not exactly legal housing. Although this may seem like a fun and kitschy way to experience NYC, the NYPD has had enough. Airbnb camper van owners may come out to find their rental gone. 

NYPD checking out a cargo van that many people use to convert into a camper van rental
New York City | Getty Images

Is it illegal to live in a camper van in NYC? 

According to CarScoops, the NYPD has towed seven illegal Airbnb camper van rentals in the past week. All of these vans were listed on Airbnb for short-term camper van rentals parked on the side of the street. Five of the vans had New Jersey plates had long expired, some as far back as 2000. 

Joseph Fucito, NYC’s Sherrif, posted to Instagram photos of the camper van rentals being towed and referenced something called “Operation Room Service.” With this most recent haul of Illegal Airbnb camper van rentals, all seven vans were located in the East Village and Chelsea. 

How did the NYPD find the camper van rentals?

CarScoops mentions that the investigators for Operation Room Service were tipped off on these Illegal rentals from a YouTube review on one of these camper vans. The YouTuber successfully dodges NYC hotel prices by paying $97 for one night in the van. Beyond the fact that that is one of the most absurd things I can think of, the NYPD used the video to find and remove the derelict van. 

The van shown in the YouTube review video has no bathroom, no sink, no air conditioner, and no wi-fi. It doesn’t really seem like anything other than camping on the street in NYC, which sounds terrible for those who haven’t been to NYC. However, the reviewer does call the stay “cozy” for what it’s worth. 

Why would anyone want to rent a stationary camper van in NYC? 

New York city streets really aren't the best place to park a camper van.
Light Traffic is seen along 42nd street on March 27, 2020 in New York City | Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

According to the reviewer, the renter was advertising the vans as a chance to experience #vanlife, the “Instagram phenomenon.” While this Matt Foley-style home is definitely cheaper than NYC hotel prices, I don’t know that this is what they mean when they say “vanlife.” 

Camper vans are cool because of their mobility. Camping in a city isn’t really the best use of a van. In the video, the van is shown to be immobilized when the YouTuber tries to start it. 

Was Airbnb aware of the illegal rentals? 

“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 regulate short-term rentals effectively,” an Airbnb spokesman said. “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.”

Even though the NYPD has towed several of these vans away, they site the main reason for the lack of out-of-date registration. Seeing how most of these vans were woefully out of date, the City is serious about getting them off the streets

Aside from minor infractions like plates, these vans are also a security threat in a place like NYC that has been known to attract terrorist plots of various flavors. Although the police don’t directly cite this as the reason, we have seen plenty of van bombings in the past to connect those dots. 


Can You Rent a Camper Van In New York City?