Short-term rental goliath Airbnb conceded that it purged a large number of controversial listings from its site shortly before its first official release of New York City data late last year.
In a letter to lawmakers Wednesday, Airbnb admitted it removed around 1,500 New York City listings from its site over the course of November 2015, saying that the action was in keeping with its promises to the community.
The listings in question “did not reflect Airbnb’s vision of our community,” the letter said.
A total of 622 hosts were affected by the move, including 375 who had more than one listing, according to the letter, news of which was first reported by the New York Daily News.
The admission follows a report based on scraped data from Airbnb’s website produced by analysts Murray Cox – who runs Inside Airbnb – and author Tom Slee, which showed a noticeable drop in “multi-listings” (units listed by hosts who list multiple units) just before the data release.
The company initially denied any extraordinary action, saying any removals were part of its normal maintenance.
But in the letter, it said, referring to its recently-released Community Compact, “Simply put, a permanent home is the place where you live, not a full-time, unwelcoming commercial property. The intent of this policy is to take appreciate actions so that when it comes to home sharing our platform is one of permanent homes only in New York City.”
Earlier this week, Airbnb launched a grassroots lobbying campaign that seeks to mobilize Airbnb’s users to demonstrate their support for the service, and pressure lawmakers on the company’s behalf.
The campaign is part of a nationwide effort to create 100 independant “Home Sharing Clubs,” as firm has dubbed them.
“They’re made of middle-class people benefitting from the democratization of travel,” Airbnb’s head of global policy Chris Lehane, a Clinton administration veteran, told The Real Deal. “There’s no better advocate and voice for home sharing.”
The company deployed similar tactics in its home city of San Francisco, as part of its recent, successful effort to defeat a ballot initiative – Proposition F – that would have tightened short-term rental regulations.
Airbnb has been fervently criticized by lawmakers and affordable housing advocates in New York for facilitating the operation de facto hotel rooms that violate the city’s subleasing laws. Critics have focused in particular on “multi-listings” and on whole-unit listings that rented nearly-constantly.
Back in October, The Real Deal analyzed scraped data from Inside Airbnb, attempting to determine the impact of these “commercial” Airbnb hosts on rental prices in some of the neighborhoods where the service is most popular.
Airbnb’s letter was released just ahead of an anti-Airbnb rally at the Capitol, which drew about 200 tenants, housing activists, and elected officials, according to the New York Daily News.
“Airbnb is a marauding army invading a city with no regard for the law or the consequences,” Assembly member Linda Rosenthal told the Daily News. “We are losing affordable housing, hand over fist. We are just losing them daily.”
The company and its sympathetic users are planning their own rally at City Hall Thursday.