The Real Deal New York

Airbnb purges thousands of “illegal” listings

Move comes ahead of court clash with attorney general
By Business Insider | April 22, 2014 08:00AM

The room-sharing startup Airbnb said it removed thousands of New York City-based listings from its site, after New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed an affidavit Monday in support of his subpoena attempting to identify users who are illegally renting apartments on the site.

Schneiderman’s affidavit included research claiming nearly two-thirds of the listings on the site were illegal sublets. The Attorney General’s office also distributed a list of the 17 largest users on the site with at least one “illegal listing.” All of these users had at least 15 listings on the site.

In a post published on the Airbnb blog Monday, the company’s head of global public policy, David Hantman, described Schneiderman’s affidavit as an attempt to “distract” from his subpoena. Hantman also said the users on Schneiderman’s list were “notified” their listings would be purged.

“In an attempt to distract from their vast data demand on regular New Yorkers, the New York Attorney General’s Office has circulated a list of Airbnb users with a large number of listings. Every host on this list that rents apartments has been notified that they and their listings will be permanently removed from Airbnb,” Hantman wrote. “That means they can’t accept new reservations. Their profile pages may still be available on our site, solely to support existing reservations. When their existing bookings end, there will be no trace of them on Airbnb.”

In a statement sent to Business Insider after an inquiry about Schneiderman’s list, Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas described this purge as part of an ongoing effort that had been in the works for “months” and affected over 2,000 listings on the site.

“The New York Attorney General continues to say one thing and do another. He says he’s interested in just a few bad actors. If that’s true, he should ask us about them, and he’d find out they are already leaving our site,” Papas said. “We’ve already taken action to identify bad actors, and those hosts and more than 2,000 of their listings in New York are being removed from our platform under a plan that has been in place for months.”

Though the top five Airbnb users on Schneiderman’s list all no longer have listings on the site, the travel news site Skift wrote a report that described at least three of them as having had listings available in February, which indicates at least part of the purge occurred within the past two months. Several of their pages feature reviews from this month.

Schneiderman opened an investigation into Airbnb last year and the company had been attempting to quash his subpoena. Schneiderman’s affidavit included research from Sumanta Ray, the director of research and analysis in the Investor Protection Bureau of the New York State Attorney General. The research attempted to identify listings on the site that violated a 2010 New York law that prohibits renters from subletting entire apartments for less than 30 days at a time in buildings with three apartments or more.

Ray found about 63.6% of the New York City-based listings on the site were entire apartments advertised as being for rent for periods of less than 30 days. However, Ray’s research did not take into account the size of the apartment building where the listings were located.

Airbnb’s statements noted the company claimed they provide New York with substantial tax revenue and economic activity.

“Airbnb guests paid $31 million in sales taxes to New York City and State while visiting New York,” Papas wrote. “According to an economic impact study by HR&A Advisors, the Airbnb community will generate $768 million in economic activity in New York City in 2014.”

Schneiderman’s office issued a statement indicating they had tried to work with Airbnb to stop the “illegal activity” on the site.

“Attorney General Schneiderman has worked in partnership with innovative tech companies like Facebook and Yelp to curb illegal activity on their sites. It’s disappointing that Airbnb has taken a different approach, resorting to name-calling and public relations to confuse the issue,” Schneiderman’s spokesman Matt Mittenthal said. “Airbnb is simply looking out for its bottom line at the expense of a law that protects quality of life for building residents and safety for tourists.”

A judge in the New York State Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments about Schneiderman’s subpoena on Tuesday.

Click here to view Schneiderman’s affidavit.

  • FlipOutNYC

    If a company claims that it is worth $10 billion, then of course the gov’t needs to get its share.

  • Perry

    Illegal activity and gains should not be rewarded

  • invitation for lawsuits

    wow who talks to the attorney general like that: if you want something, just tell us what it is and we’ll take care of it for you – you have our word

    that is EXACTLY how rent regulated tenants deal with SPONYs

    If not for the AG’s office looking into them, airbnb would be terrifying to SPONYs because their rhetoric is very tenants can do as they please and justify profiteering as social progress.

  • invitation for lawsuits

    Roomster is another one. You just have to put yourself in the shoes of a European intern and go on google and more than airbnb pop up.

    Then there are the foreign language sites of which there are many offering rent regulated “shares” in Downtown Manhattan.

    Hopefully, this means Roomster and the other versions will also get looked at.

  • The truth will out.

    We need Arnold Diaz to send in some journalism interns to “share” these apartments.

  • too permissive

    “regular New Yorkers just trying to make ends meet” –

    If a landlord renews a lease after a tenant’s drinking and loudness causes the longtime cleaner to quit, is that harassing the other tenants from quiet enjoyment of their premises?

    Landlords can’t rent to just anyone and if there is something fishy going on and they offer a renewal lease, guess who is responsible so how is airbnb and these tenant hosts not being held responsible by law for what goes on if they are refusing to submit to policing and releasing their database to the AG’s office which had to use a research company to collect data that airbnb could have just given the enforcement agency?

  • It’s not owners.

    How can airbnb demand to be considered a legal hotel if they don’t own an actual physical hotel?

    They sound like the monster rent regulated tenant from hell: they don’t own anything therefore they don’t have to repair anything, they don’t pay ANY of the bills for the building including the hot water the guests are using, they don’t provide any records to law enforcement and have no obligation to the other people in the building and

    they don’t pay any insurance so at least they should not allow any hosts with gas stoves in their apartments because these three day residents probably are not going to read the user manual for the gas appliance that the landlord would give a new tenant.

    Basically, they are not responsible or financially obligated and they make money on other people’s real estate and they are more aggressive than the actual owner or the law when it comes to their rights with respect to the property.

    Doesn’t a legal hotel have to have a fixed address?

    I do not believe for one second that their host tenant will go out of pocket if a guest clogs the drains maliciously or does something weird or brings in bedbugs. I am certain that the tenant absolutely will deny that anything untoward happen and will demand that the owner carry the burden of repairs. I do not believe at all the implication by airbnb that their hosts are mostly landlords and not profiteering tenants.

    This type of business simply benefits tenants more than owners. Owners feel pain when something happens to the property. Tenants don’t care and will just demand that owners make repairs – they would never treat their own property like this.

  • it’s going to land on owners

    What if a tenant “hosts” a “guest” for three days who destroys the landlord’s property? Is the tenant responsible or can they claim as hosts have in the past when caught redhanded that they weren’t the one – it was their brother or someone spending the night.

    • what a can of worms

      how lax the govt is with airbnb even after multiple hooker incidents affects the laws governing tenant conduct – they will just airbnb host themselves and their criminal associates and still get to keep their apartments if they get busted for brothels or drug deals, right?

      see what this is? airbnb creates deniability for long term criminal conduct by the tenant of record who will claim IF the police show up, that it wasn’t them – it was the airbnb guest.

  • r we going to lose to airbnb?

    Claiming that privacy is being attacked is a very VERY rent regulated tenant thing to say btw:

    Are we going to lose airbnb because the AG’s office doesn’t want to offend the pro-poor banner wavers who are implying that policing airbnb is equivalent to denying ordinary people the opportunity to afford three days and two nights in Manhattan?


    Remember when Leland Yee offered to buy bazookas from Filipino anti-government “rebels” – is it possible that maybe our government NEEDS to know who is entering NYC and where they are staying especially if they leave … a duffel bag … at the new World Trade Center or in a Broadway theatre.

    Maybe we need a trail so that Chloe can tell Jack Bauer where a certain someone is CRASHING for the night.

    Instead of criminals holding onto a chain of apartments for their nefarious deeds, we are endorsing airbnb provide camouflage for them – it’s like the way stations for the Underground Railroad only not without the Quakers and also without the righteous cause.

    Is this about not jeopardizing airbnb’s fundraising? Or is there actually pressure on the AG because of airbnb’s alluring suggestion that they can pay much needed tax revenue?

    • REAL hotels get this info

      Roberta A. Kaplan of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, which is representing the company, criticized the government’s subpoena for its “extreme and incredible scope.” The government wants users’ names, emails, the address of the rental, the dates and the amount charged, she told the judge, Gerald W. Connolly of the Albany County Supreme Court.Continue reading the main storyDocument: Analysis of Airbnb Listings

      “This is private information,” Ms. Kaplan said. “Confidential information.” She said an investigation of Airbnb hosts could drag their guests into the light unwillingly.

      • sheeps clothing

        if this is about national security – then just change the law overall and make all of us register our tenants’ info otherwise we are going to get bamboozled by losing to airbnb but effectively losing to a much bigger problem

  • landlords will have hands tied
  • jon

    AIRbnb I think it’s time for you to say goodbye to NYC and…what a bogus name
    WE don’t need your way of doing shady business in this city…Sooooo longgggg
    Btw, who are these people?????????????
    Get Lost dudes!!!!!!!!!!!!!