When the New York City Council votes today to force Airbnb to disclose information on every one of its New York City listings or face $25,000 fines for each, the $31 billion unicorn will take a heavy punch to the gut. But it’s already found a new way to fight back: the company will pay legal fees for a host alleging the city unfairly targeted him for enforcement after he testified in favor of Airbnb at a June City Council hearing.
Stanley Karol of Sunset Park filed a lawsuit against the city in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday, claiming that within two weeks of the legislative hearing city officers “descended on his Sunset Park home and issued four (baseless) summonses which in total demand payment of up to $32,000 in fines.” One of summonses alleged Karol had illegally converted his home into a hotel.
Karol seeks compensatory and punitive damages. A spokesperson for Airbnb said the case was the first in New York in which the company had covered a host’s legal fees.
“Airbnb is paying for this host’s legal costs because we are committed to defending the rights of our hosts not only to share their home to make ends meet but also to exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech,” the spokesperson said.
Karol’s problems with the city over his use of the Airbnb platform predate the alleged June retaliation enforcement. In 2017, city inspectors visited Karol’s two-family home and issued four citations after receiving a 311 complaint, though all four were later dismissed because they had issued been in the name of Karol’s mother, according the complaint filed Tuesday.
A City Hall spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In May, Karol appeared in an Airbnb ad advocating against hotel lobby’s use of private investigators to find illegal Airbnb rentals and report them to city investigators. “I felt like I’m not safe in my own home. What’s the purpose of this? To scare me?” Karol says in the ad.
Over the last few years, the city has stepped up its enforcement of short-term rental rules, which prohibit people from renting out apartments for less than 30 days in homes where the host is not present. The enforcement has largely focused on larger, commercial owners of Airbnb properties, however.
Furthermore, critics over AirBnb say demand for its platform have caused rents to rise across New York City.