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Airbnb Gives Up New York Data, Won't Give Up Regulatory Fight

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, May 22 2014

Just over a week ago, Airbnb public policy honcho David Hantman wrote a note to users titled "Good News In New York." A wide reaching request for user data in New York by the attorney general had been defeated. "This is a great victory for our community," wrote Hantman.

Over a week later, the victory is over. Unfortunately for Airbnb, the judge agreed with Attorney General Schneiderman on the substance of their request for user information –- needed to root out illegal hotels –- and denied the request because it was too broad. The attorney general's office rewrote the subpoena to comply with the judge's ruling a day later, and rather than hash it out in court, where Airbnb was likely to lose, the two sides cut a deal to get Airbnb to hand over user data announced Tuesday. While Airbnb loses for now, the company and its opponents are readying for a larger battle about the New York law that regulates short term rentals.

Under the agreement, the attorney general's office will get anonymized user data from Airbnb in New York City beginning in three weeks. The state will then have a year to pick through the data. If it finds an anonymous user who appears to be breaking the law, then Airbnb will have to divulge their identifying information. Airbnb is also required to make new users click through a page that provides information on short term rental laws and requirements in New York (short version: if you're not in the apartment you're renting while your guests are there, it's probably illegal.)

A markedly less triumphant post by David Hantman yesterday detailed Airbnb's capitulation. But in it, he takes aim at New York's short term rental law.

"We are pleased that we reached this agreement, but we know there is so much yet to be done. For instance, the law that made this investigation possible is still on the books, and we need to change that law to allow anyone in New York who wants to rent out their own home to do so."

In other words, although Airbnb will comply with the request because the law says they have to, they're going to go after that law. State Senator Liz Krueger, the author of the law, is also ready for the battle. In a statement on the agreement, she said the following:

Make no mistake: this fight isn't over. Despite today's settlement, Airbnb remains a scofflaw company whose business model is at odds not just with multiple New York laws, but with the basics of the New York City real estate market. Its leaders believe they can pick and choose which laws they follow and which they ignore. Worse still, they continue to take no responsibility for the Airbnb hosts who are being evicted from their homes, not because of the law, but simply because nearly every lease, set of co-op bylaws, or condo agreement in New York City prohibits these kinds of short-term sublets.

There is no doubt in my mind that while the Attorney General's staff analyze this data, Airbnb will continue to lobby for changes in the law that benefit unscrupulous illegal hotel operators and hurt the everyday New Yorkers that Airbnb keeps claiming they're trying to help. I will continue working with my colleagues in both houses of the legislature to stop them.

With a $10 billion valuation and $776 million in funding, Airbnb has the resources to confront laws that disadvantage its business. It has helped build a sharing economy astro-turfing organization, Peers to help make its case. This week's deal doesn't mark conciliation between Airbnb and regulators in New York, just the results of the latest skirmish.