Airbnb will fight NYC subpoena in court on Tuesday

Faith Merino · April 21, 2014 · Short URL:

Data revealed that two-thirds of NYC listings are illegal sublets

And the Airbnb v. New York City saga continues. The company is going to court on Tuesday to fight NYC Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s subpoena of Airbnb’s user records.

The Attorney General subpoenaed Airbnb last year over illegal listings. NYC’s short-term subletting laws hold that renters can’t rent out their whole apartment to another renter for a period of less than 30 days. In the past, Airbnb has gotten around that problem by requiring hosts to be present when they rent out their home—as in, by renting out their couch or a single room instead of the whole apartment. Additionally, an apartment must be subleased by the permanent resident.

But there have been some rule-breakers. An analysis of Airbnb’s NYC listings found 19,522 listings but only 15,677 hosts—meaning a sizable number of NYC hosts are renting out more than one apartment. To be specific, just 12% of Airbnb’s NYC hosts accounted for 30% of its listings—that’s 1,849 hosts and 5,964 apartments.

Further analysis has revealed that fully two-thirds of listings are for entire apartments. And a dive into the numbers by AG’s Investor Protection Bureau AG’s Investor Protection Bureau found that a single “host” can have upwards of 100 listings, which means a number of hosts are actually third parties renting out apartments for others. In one count, there were 200 apartments listed by just five “hosts,” one of whom had 80 listings to its name. One host, “USA Stay,” had 134 listings.

In an emotionally heavy-handed blog post by Airbnb Head of Global Public Policy David Hantman, the company claims that it’s handling bad actors.

“The small group of bad actors that abused our platform aren’t part of the Airbnb community anymore, or they are on their way out the door,” Hantman wrote.

But according to data from the NYC Attorney General, illegal listings have actually increased since the subpoena last fall. Two of the hosts have added 30 new listings since the subpoena was filed.

All of that said, there are plenty of real slum lords that NYC could be going after, but those guys don’t have a powerful hotel lobby trying to badger them out of business. (I once came pretty close to renting out someone's attic crawlspace, which was exactly four feet from floor to ceiling.)

David Hantman notes that Airbnb will generate $768 million in economic activity in New York City this year alone, and that short-term rental laws were never meant to apply to New Yorkers occasionally renting out their own homes.

“The government will accuse Airbnb hosts of being bad neighbors and bad citizens. They’ll call us slumlords and tax cheats. They might even say we all faked the moon landing,” wrote Hantman, adding: “If we are ordered to hand over any data, we will work to ensure you are properly notified before the government receives any information about you or your listing.”

Hantman says Airbnb will hold a community meetup in NYC on Wednesday at 7 pm, as well as a webinar on Thursday at 11 am. 


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