New York City subpoenas Airbnb for hosts’ data

New York: New York City has subpoenaed Airbnb for data on around 20,000 listings in the area to ensure hosts comply with local short-term rental regulations.

In an interview with the NY1 television channel, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio stated his reasoning for the subpoena from the Office of Special Enforcement: “If your apartment was rented out every single day, it’s not your apartment anymore. It’s a business.

“This goes under the category: If you got nothing to hide why are you not coming forward with the information? If Airbnb believes that all of the people it’s working with are doing things right, then why not be transparent,” he added.

A similar subpoena was also issued to fellow vacation rental site HomeAway. It includes requests for details about hosts disclosing their addresses, names, contact information, their volume of bookings and amount of money earned.

In 2016, New York made it illegal for people to list entire apartments on rental platforms like Airbnb for periods of less than 30 days. The law aims to crack down on people converting their homes into hotels and taking potential rental housing off the market while denying the city tax revenue.

In July, New York City Council passed a bill that would have required short-term rental companies turn over information about hosts and rentals every month beginning in February. However, one month before it was set to be implemented, Airbnb and HomeAway won a preliminary injunction that prevented them from having to start releasing data on rental listings.

The rental companies argued that the law was a violation of their fourth amendment rights to be free from search and seizures.

The federal judge’s decision from January suggests that the city is within its right to subpoena Airbnb. “It can use these tools to safeguard its interests while this litigation is pending,” the court filing reads.

In response, Airbnb’s head of global policy, Chris Lehane, issued a letter to Mayor de Blasio.

Lehane wrote that the company works with over 500 governments worldwide on rules and data sharing.

He wrote: “It is no secret that we have been vocal supporters of this very approach in New York City, in the form of comprehensive and effective regulations that provide those key protections for New York City hosts and outline clear rules for safety, tax collection, and enforcement against those who would seek to take advantage of our platform to operate illegal hotels.”

He also wrote that the company had “proactively implemented a stop-gap programme of our own,’ in reference to the company’s “One Host, One Home” policy started in 2016 and implemented in San Francisco, Portland and New York. The policy aims to bar individuals from listing and promoting multiple properties on the platform.

Lehane added the company “offered to work with the City to collaboratively focus enforcement efforts on weeding out large scale commercial operators who seek to circumvent our policies”.

The news of the subpoena in New York follows the issuing of one on Airbnb in Hawaii, although it was later dismissed by a state judge as the state authorities did not meet the required legal thresholds to lawfully apply it.