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New York Attorney General Demands Airbnb Info

BY Sam Roudman | Monday, October 7 2013

Airbnb is happy to help its users rent spare rooms to strangers, but less happy to share their information with New York's attorney general. The New York Daily News reported today that Eric Schneiderman issued the company a subpoena demanding data on its New York renters, who might be in violation of a 2011 law intended to tamp down on illegal hotels. In response, Airbnb issued a statement saying the following:

"We always want to work with governments to make the Airbnb community stronger, but at this point, this demand is unreasonably broad and we will fight it with everything we’ve got."

New York says the request is normal, and something other companies have complied with, but Airbnb is depicting it as a violation of user privacy. New York says Airbnb is avoiding compliance with already existing laws, and Airbnb says it is working with New York to "create a fair, transparent, cooperative environment."

The back and forth is an example of the challenges faced by sharing economy companies in complying with regulations that differ in every city and state, and comes in the middle of negotiations to push Airbnb to enforce an already extant hotel tax on its users. The 2011 law the request is based on makes it illegal to rent out an apartment a few days unless the owner is staying there along with the guest. Despite the law, Airbnb lets people rent out their entire apartments in New York. One New York Airbnb user was fined for such a use earlier this year, but he was able to reverse the $2,400 judgment, arguing that he complied with the law since his roommate was home during the time he rented his room out.

The data requested in the subpoena pertains to some 15,000 renters, and an Airbnb representative says it includes both those renting out their entire apartments, and those who rent out a single room.

According to the article, the request is not part of a campaign against "casual" renters in violation of the law, renting out their apartment now and again. Rather, Schneiderman's goal is to crack down on slum lords using Airbnb to avoid paying hotel taxes. Airbnb says it would like to eliminate this small number of "bad actors" as well.

The potential good news is that short term rentals are far from impossible to regulate. But when that will happen in one of Airbnb's largest markets is anyone's guess.