The Real Deal New York

Airbnb squares off against hosts in personal information battle

Short-term rental group says hosts agreed to allow data handover

October 02, 2014 06:33PM
By David Jones

From left: Eric Schneiderman and Airbnb founders Nathan Blecharczyk, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky

From left: Eric Schneiderman and Airbnb founders Nathan Blecharczyk, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky

Lawyers for Airbnb this week asked a Manhattan Supreme Court judge to partially dismiss claims filed by a group of hosts seeking to block the handover of personal data by the short-term rental site.

The group, called New Yorkers Making Ends Meet in the Sharing Economy, filed suit early last month seeking to stop Airbnb from turning the confidential information over to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office. The Attorney General originally issued subpoenas to Airbnb in 2013, ordering the company to turn over the data.

In its filing, Airbnb noted that it fought hard to narrow the scope of the AG’s original subpoena, which sought personal and financial information on more than 15,000 hosts based in New York. The firm also noted that hosts using the service signed an agreement that Airbnb would comply with the release of data requested through a court order or other legal proceeding.

“Under the narrowed subpoena, we were required to provide anonymized data about hosts in New York,” Airbnb said in a statement released through a spokesperson. “The subpoena gives the Attorney General’s office one year to review the anonymized data and compel information from us about individualized hosts who may be subject to further investigation.”

Attorney Adam Leitman Bailey, who representing the plaintiffs in this case, claims that Airbnb promised to protect the privacy of its hosts.

“It was shocking and devious after being told privately and publicly by Airbnb that they would simply bring in the government and stay out of the case for them to move the court to turn over my clients’ names,” he told The Real Deal. “If Airbnb simply wanted to follow the law, they would manipulate their computer application and make it impossible for New York City members to rent for less than 30 days.”

Airbnb, based in San Francisco, offers a home sharing service that connects travelers to homeowners and renters willing to rent out their space for short-term visits. The service is offered in 190 countries worldwide and has hosted more than 17 million travelers.

The company has run afoul of regulators in New York, where a 2011 law banned rentals of fewer than 30 days in apartment buildings and other residences.

These rentals were used frequently by landlords during the Great Recession to generate incremental income in condo buildings with unsold apartments, as well as condos rented out by absentee owners.

The Oct. 1 filing comes a day after the AG asked the court to order the Airbnb hosts to hand over the data, and also asked the court to not allow Airbnb to get out of the lawsuit.

According to AG data obtained by The Real Deal, the hosts on the Attorney General’s list have made more than $60 million on their apartments over the past three years, with the average host making about $500,000 per year. Data shows that the least prolific member of the group fighting the subpoenas controls more than 10 individual apartments.

However, Bailey says that a majority of his clients are owners of SROs.

A spokesperson for the AG declined to comment.

  • Sh!t My Tenants Say

    “If Airbnb simply wanted to follow the law, they would manipulate their computer
    application and make it impossible for New York City members to rent for less
    than 30 days.”
    Exactly. Thank you ALB. That’s a whole step beyond my request to
    be able to block apartments in MY BUILDINGS from being listed. How they
    continue to operate in this city is beyond me.

    • smarty pants

      They aren’t doing anything wrong, and it’s not YOUR city. It’s a city shared by millions of people. Not you, a landlord, any nyc corrupt official being paid zillions by the hotels to stop this or a neighbor has any right to decide who someone else let’s into their own home. Period. If you don’t like people or strangers, move to a single house in the burbs or the country.

      • Crian Bashman

        Outside of all of the fire safety and other standards that are being broken by AirBNB, the fact that they are letting strangers into secured apartment buildings is dangerous to rule abiding tenants. The people renting out their apartments on AirBNB are breaking the law. Maybe it is those folks who need to move to the burbs or the country where there aren’t rules in place to prevent illegally renting out your home.

      • Sh!t My Tenants Say

        Did you just really say they are not doing anything wrong? How about operating a platform for illegal activity? They are venture capitalist 1%ers trying to portray themselves as for the people, then turning their backs on their “partner” hosts hiding behind disclaimers.

        I never said it was “My city” I said “My buildings” as in ones I own and have a responsibility to and a right to know who is coming and going from MY buildings, especially when subleasing is prohibited in any lease without my permission.

        AirBnB and the “hosts” are the ones who ruining OUR city and need to get out!
        Its not if you don’t like it move, its if you care about our city, follow the laws set up to protect the people. Don’t be a selfish a$$hole.

  • Bullied and Damaged by Rent Re

    I think no one wants to catch rent regulated tenants on the list of hosts because it will be described as endangering affordable housing.

  • Steven Unger

    airbnb’s “we’re just a platform” stance will not work in the end. From the very start airbnb T&C’s said that hosts must comply will all relevant local laws. airbnb has firmed up this language in recent months. Faced with a law suit from the State Attorney General or some angry “super-hosts”, I think the AG will win out.
    If I were airbnb I would limit my offerings to host-resident “private room” rentals in New York City and San Francisco for 1 or 2 years.
    To learn how cities around the world are attempting to appropriately regulate airbnb check out http://www.AirbnbAnalyst.com .

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