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updated 9/29/2010 7:11:14 PM ET 2010-09-29T23:11:14

For years, we've been advising our readers to rent short-term apartments whenever they plan to spend more than a few days in expensive cities like Paris and New York. Short-term apartment rentals can help travelers save money on both lodging and meals, while providing a more authentic experience. (Learn everything there is to know about vacation rentals.)

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Regardless of recent headlines concerning new rules—or supposed new efforts to enforce old rules—for short-term rentals, we still endorse the option as a smart, fun, and safe way to stay. While there may be new implications for owners seeking to rent out their properties in these cities, renters themselves face no possibility of fines or problems of any kind with the local authorities. "There's nothing illegal that the traveler is doing when staying in a vacation rental," says Carl Shepherd, chief development officer of direct-from-owner rental specialist HomeAway. "None of these cities have any penalties for renters."

The announcements of lawmakers and housing officials seem to imply otherwise, hinting that because some home owners may technically be violating unenforced local ordinances by renting out their properties, renters are somehow guilty by association. The truth is that based on years of precedent—and the fact that restrictions are vaguely worded and that the municipalities involved are uninterested or incapable of enforcing them—the risks encountered by renters are extremely minimal. So fear not. Arm yourself with our 6 Tips for Safer, Smarter Rentals, and read on for specific advice about Paris, San Francisco, and New York.

PARIS
Here's the deal: Late last year, city officials started to enforce a 2005 law that restricts owners from renting at their properties for periods of less than one year. Citing a lack of affordable housing in the central city—always a popular topic among voters, and, yes, this began in a run-up to elections—Mayor Bertrand Delanoë ordered a local housing agency to warn some of the estimated 38,000 offenders that they were violating the law by renting flats for shorter spans. How many warning letters did the housing authority send out? As of midsummer 2010, about 25.

Slideshow: Perfectly Paris (on this page)

"For the moment," says one property owner who prefers to remain anonymous, "any enforcement of this law is minimal to the point of being invisible."

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If enforcement efforts are ever ramped up substantially, short-term rentals could be harder to come by in Paris. Even though no owners have been hit with the maximum €25,000 ($32,304) fine for violating housing regulations, the possibility of such a fine will probably be enough to turn some short-term listings into long-term rentals. Bottom line: In Paris, there has been no noticeable drop-off in owners posting short-term apartment rentals. At last check, homeaway.com listed an all-time high of 1,605 properties in Paris.

SAN FRANCISCO
Here's the deal: San Fran's obscure, long-ignored law prohibiting rentals of less than 30 days is nearly 30 years old, but few people thought about it until news arose about crackdowns on tourist rentals in other cities.

Slideshow: San Francisco: City by the Bay (on this page)

Rather than inquire as to the legality of such rentals, the city has traditionally preferred to subject owners to the local 14 percent hotel tax, bringing in millions annually that would not have been raised had the properties been occupied year-round by owners or long-term renters. For the sake of the city budget, there's an obvious incentive to keep ignoring the ordinance.

NEW YORK CITY
Here's the deal: Of the trio of cities, New York is the only one to actually pass new rental legislation. As in Paris and San Francisco, the primary target is not the small-time owner who rents out a place from time to time. Instead, the focus is on "illegal hotel" operations: large-scale attempts to convert residential apartments intended for permanent occupants into travel accommodations.

Slideshow: The Big Apple (on this page)

So how will the law be enforced, and exactly what rental scenarios will be deemed illegal when the rules become effective as of May 1, 2011? No one's entirely sure. State Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, the cosponsor of the bill, was quoted as saying, "Somebody who is going away on vacation and once in a blue moon rents the apartment is probably not going to be affected by this." Probably. That's right: Even the bill's cosponsor can't say exactly how the law will play out.

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Nominally, the purpose behind the legislation is to provide more affordable housing for city residents and to protect travelers from sketchy quasi hotels. But the law might not have become a reality had it not been for the lobbying of hotel and motel associations—which obviously compete with vacation rentals, and which would obviously benefit if travelers turned away from short-term rentals en masse.

Among all the confusion and uncertainty, one thing is clear: Travelers want their vacation rentals. In the second quarter of this year, HomeAway recorded a 104 percent increase in inquiries for New York City apartments compared with the same period in 2009.

Meg Zimbeck contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2012 Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc.

Photos: Perfectly Paris

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  1. Mood lighting

    The Eiffel Tower and the Hotel des Invalides are illuminated at dusk with in Paris. (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Heart of the Louvre

    The intricate ceiling of the Appolo Gallery at Paris' Louvre Museum is reflected in a display case in the foreground. Built in 1661, the gallery was not fully completed until 1851. In all, over twenty artists worked on the decoration. The Appolo Gallery gallery contains more than two centuries of French art, and houses such wonders as the French Crown Jewels, including the famous Régent (140 carats) and Sancy (53 carats) diamonds, as well as the 105-carat Côte de Bretagne ruby. (Joel Robine / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. To the heavens

    The Sacred Heart Catholic church (Basilique Sacré-Coeur) is seen on Paris' highest point, in Montmartre. The view at the top of the dome is excellent -- 271 feet above Montmartre Hill -- and is the second-highest viewpoint after the Eiffel Tower. (Benoit Tessier / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Looking glass

    This elaborate stained-glass cupola (dome) inside Magasins du Printemps department store is located above the main restaurant in the store. Installed in 1923, it is composed of 3,185 individual pieces of stained glass. (David Lefranc / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Keeping cool

    Tourists soak their feet in a reflecting pool at Place du Trocadero, an area of museums and gardens. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Sights from the Seine

    A "Bateau Mouche" tourist boat travels near the Paris Justice court. These boat tours are a popular, but relaxing way to view the sights of Paris along the Seine River. (Benoit Tessier / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Museum of masterpieces

    Originally a royal fortress for kings, and open to all since 1793, the Louvre is one the world's greatest art museums, housing 35,000 works of ancient and Western art, displayed in over 60,000 square meters of exhibition space. More than 6 million visitors see the Louvre per year. (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Shopper's haven

    Local art, food and other goods are sold in passage Jouffroy, across Boulevard Montmartre. Originally designed to protect pedestrians from mud and horse-drawn vehicles, the passages (shopping arcades), arre located between the Grands Boulevards and the Louvre. (Amélie Dupont / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Modern art

    A view of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Its 1977 factory style architecture contrasts with the surrounding buildings of Paris' oldest district near Notre-Dame cathedral. It has a public library, and the French National Museum of Modern Art. (Loic Venance / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Holy architecture

    One of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture is the Notre Dame Cathedral, attracting 13 million visitors each year. The name Notre Dame means "Our Lady" in French. (Stéphane Querbes / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Practical protectors

    The famous stone statues of Notre Dame. (Amélie Dupont / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Tranquil gardens

    The Jardin des Tuileries is Paris's most central garden. Its fountains, sculptures, cafes, formal gardens, and central location, make it a popular destination for visitors and locals. (Amélie Dupont / Paris Tourist Offi) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Tuileries Palace

    Tuileries Palace encloses the western end of the Louvre and the formal gardens that make up Jardin des Tuileries park, stretching from the Louvre to the Place de Concorde, and bordered by the Seine. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Moulin Rouge

    The cabaret Moulin Rouge was built in 1889, in Paris' red-light district of Pigalle on Boulevard de Clichy. The Moulin Rouge is best known as the birthplace of the can-can dance. (David Lefranc / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Flowing with history

    The Fontaine des Mers at one of the main public square, Place de la Concorde. At 20 acres, it is the largest square in Paris. (Henri Garat / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Honoring warriors

    The Arc de Triomphe stands in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle, at the western end of the Champs-Elysees. The arch honors soldiers who fought for France. The names of generals and wars fought can be found on the inside and top of the arc. Underneath, is the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I . (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Coffee break

    People walk past a boulangerie (bakery) in the Montmartre district in Paris. (Michel Euler / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Paris blues

    A piece of renowned French Roquefort blue cheese is displayed in a shop in Paris. (Philippe Wojazer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Pricey real estate

    The Place Vendome is an octagonal square located to the north of the Tuileries Gardens and east of the Eglise de la Madeleine. The bronze spiral column at the center of the square was constructed in 1810 by Napoleon to celebrate the French army’s victory at Austerlitz. Within the square are apartments, and posh hotels and high-end retailers, including Cartier, Chanel, and Bulgari. (Benoit Tessier / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. French connection

    The high-speed rail network in France goes to several Parisian train stations, including Gare Du Nord shown here. The name was derived by the idea that travelers would be able to travel to Belgium, Netherlands, Northern Germany and the Scandinavian countries. It is the busiest railway station in Europe, and the third -busiest in the world. (Cate Gillon / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. The grandest address in Paris

    The Pere Lachaise cemetary (Father Lachaise Cemetery) on the eastern edge of the city, is named after the Jesuit Father Lachaise, King Louis XIV's confessor. Many famous people are buried here, including Musset, Chopin, Moliere, Oscar Wilde, Delacroix, Balzac, Jim Morrison. (Amélie Dupont / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Impressive collection

    The Musée d'Orsay is one of Paris' most popular museums, housed in the former railway station, the Gare d'Orsay. The museum houses an extensive collection of sculptures and impressionist masterpieces by Monet, Degas, Renoir, and Cezanne. (David Lefranc / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Grand design

    The Grand Palais (Big Palace) was built for the World Fair of 1900. The building is best known for its enormous glass-domed roof, making it one of Paris’ most recognizable landmarks. The Grand Palais was the work of three different architects, and is currently the largest existing ironwork and glass structure in the world. (Marc Bertrand / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Prestigious avenue

    The Louis Vuitton department store is located on the stunning Champs-Elysees, one of the world's most famous and beautiful streets. (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Le Pantheon

    Le Pantheon was originally intended to be a church dedicated to Saint Genevieve to fulfil a vow made by Louis XV while he'd fallen ill. It was used for religious and civil purposes until 1885 and now functions as a famous burial place. (David Lefranc / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: General view of Paris
    Mike Hewitt / Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (25) Perfectly Paris
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