Airbnb host narrowly clears hurdle in First Amendment claim against city

Startup is covering the legal expenses of Sunset Park host Stanley “Skip” Karol

Jul.July 09, 2019 12:30 PM
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Stanley “Skip” Karol, an Airbnb host (Credit: Getty Images and Youtube)

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Stanley “Skip” Karol, an Airbnb host (Credit: Getty Images and Youtube)

A Brooklyn Airbnb host who claimed he was unfairly targeted by the city in retaliation for his advocacy will move forward with a civil rights lawsuit after a U.S. District Court judge dismissed some of his claims but declined to throw out the suit in full.

Stanley “Skip” Karol, who lives in Sunset Park, claimed the city unfairly targeted him after he testified at a 2018 council hearing about proposed legislation that would compel Airbnb to disclose information about its hosts.

According to court documents, Karol was visited nine days after the hearing by four officers from the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement, who said they had received an anonymous complaint. On their way out, the officers issued him with four summonses threatening up to $32,000 in fines.

In the Southern District of New York this week, Judge John Koeltl dismissed one of Karol’s claims, made under the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as First Amendment claims against three of the OSE officers. However, he declined to dismiss Karol’s claim against a fourth officer, paving the way for a narrower version of the case to proceed.

Andrew Celli, an attorney with Emery Celli Brinkerhoff and Abady LLP who represented Karol, said they would now move to discovery.

“The judge found that we had articulated a valid claim for First Amendment retaliation and that we now have the power and authority to investigate and demonstrate that the ticketing of our client was based on and in retaliation for his speech activities,” he said.

Nick Paolucci of the OSE’s law department commended the judge’s decision as a positive sign for the city.

“We’re pleased the court dismissed many of the claims in this case at this early stage,” he said in a statement to The Real Deal. “The city is confident that once the facts are fully presented following discovery, the remaining claim will also be dismissed.”

The OSE has stepped up enforcement of short-term rental rules in the past year, prompting pushback from Airbnb, which argues that commercial operators, rather than individual homeowners, should be targeted. To further this position, the company is funding Karol’s lawsuit.

“We are glad to see that Skip will continue to have his day in court to defend his freedom to petition his government and to do so without fear of governmental reprisal,” Airbnb’s head of northeast policy, Josh Meltzer, said in a statement to TRD.

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