Airbnb dismisses data-sharing lawsuit against New York City

US: Airbnb has settled its drawn-out dispute with New York City by dismissing a lawsuit against the city over the data-sharing requirements it was imposing.

The company has now agreed to hand over information and data on its hosts in the city to officials, allowing them to monitor and prosecute those people who are violating the city’s strict short-term rental rules.

This includes the property’s physical address, the number of days the bookings cover, hosts’ names, addresses, phone numbers, emails, and the name, number and URL for each listing. Airbnb will also be required to pass on information concerning how much money its hosts will be making in each transaction and their account names, as well as provide an anonymised account identifier to trace those payments successfully.

In a statement to the press, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said: “Illegal hotel operators who flout the law at the expense of working New Yorkers have no place in our neighbourhoods. Finally, we’ll have the critical information we need to preserve affordable housing and keep our communities protected.”

New York City defines a short-term rental as a rental that takes place for less than 30 consecutive days, and puts the emphasis on hosts sharing their home with guests rather than letting out multiple unregulated properties at one time.

The city’s website provides a summary of short-term rental regulations in New York City:

  • An entire home or apartment cannot be offered as a short-term rental, even if one owns or lives in the building.
  • A host must be present at the time of the rental, i.e. when renting out a private room in an apartment or home on a short-term basis.
  • A host may have up to two paying guests in their household and each guest must have free and unobstructed access to every room and each exit within the household.
  • Interior doors must have key locks that allow guests to leave and lock their room behind them. All occupants need to maintain a common household, which means that every member of the family and all guests have access to all parts of the dwelling unit. Interior doors with such key locks create barriers to escaping in an emergency and may result in the issuance of a temporary vacate order.
  • Property owners are responsible for ensuring their properties are maintained in a safe and code-compliant manner. They can also be issued with a violation order for any illegal short-term rentals at their property, even if it is carried out by tenants occupying the property.
  • The advertising of an apartment in a Class A multiple dwelling, [a building with three or more permanent residential units], for rent for any period less than 30 days, is strictly prohibited.

In recent years, the city and the booking platform have been locked in a war of words, as a significant portion of Airbnb’s listings in the United States are located in New York City. In response, the city has sought to regulate Airbnb’s rental business, with a shortage of housing supply being a prime reason for its concern.

Two years ago, New York City approved a law which required Airbnb to hand over hosts’ data and find the “bad actors” who were violating its strict laws on renting out apartments on a short-term basis. The platform then filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming that the disclosure law was an “extraordinary act of government overreach” and violated the U.S. Constitution.

In 2019, New York City reignited the feud by subpoenaing Airbnb for data on an estimated 20,000 listings, before a compromise was reached months later in May, whereby the latter agreed to turn over partially redacted home-sharing data of 17,500 listings.

Now that the dispute has seemingly been settled, it will be necessary for Airbnb to share host information with New York City for each quarter. The city council will also introduce a law that obliges short-term rental firms to provide information on homes or rooms that are rented out to three or more guests at one time or are rented for at least five nights per quarter.

In a message to hosts, Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk wrote: “We hope that our willingness to be transparent enables the State and the City to feel reassured that short-term rentals can be effectively regulated without blunt prohibitions. Now more than ever, regular New Yorkers should have the ability to occasionally share their home, activity that we believe should not be confused with illegal hotels.”