Online room rental service Airbnb is asking users to join in on the fight against a subpoena from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman demanding records for all Airbnb hosts in the state. The number of users is pegged at over 15,000 in New York City.
The company is fighting back in court to protect its users. David Hantman, head of global public policy at Airbnb, wrote on the site’s blog: “The vast majority of these hosts are everyday New Yorkers who occasionally share the home in which they live … This demand is unreasonably broad and we will fight it with everything we’ve got.” The company pointed out that 87 percent of hosts rent out the homes in which they live.
Airbnb also sent out an e-mail asking users to sign the petition to “Save Airbnb in NY” on Peers.org: The petition already has over 17,000 signatures. Lead petitioner Mishelle wrote, “As a New Yorker just trying to pay my bills, I don’t understand why [state prosecutors] think I’m a slumlord.” She continued, “Renting a room … is helping me achieve my dreams by providing me with a source of income that makes it possible for me to focus my energy on preparing for a new career where I can help people through better public policy.” It should be noted that if Mishelle simply rents out a room but maintains a presence in her own home, her hosting activity is legal according to New York law.
Peers.org sent Metro letters the site has received from Airbnb users who want to save the site. Jasmine G. from Manhattan wrote, “Being able to rent out my space allows me to pay off my bills and pay toward my student loans.”
Airbnb stresses that the majority of its users are not trying to run illegal hotels and that the affordable price point of Airbnb rooms allows a more vibrant cuture in the city. Manisha S. of Brooklyn wrote to Peers.org, “This action stinks of an attorney general acting in the interests of big hotel businesses and not the warm, community-oriented citizens that make up New York and are welcoming tourists into our homes.”
Airbnb said it shares New York prosecutors’ goals of eliminating slumlords and people who run illegal hotels out of their properties, but doesn’t want to burn casual users renting out their own homes in the process. “We are eager to work with New York to remove bad actors in our community,” wrote CEO Brian Chesky. Chesky also wrote that he believes “it makes sense” for hosts to pay tax on their earnings and that he would like New York to pass a law that makes it possible for users to do so.
A source told the Daily News that Schneiderman’s office is not targeting casual users, but Airbnb hosts could still get fined if they are reported to the police. Airbnb recently provided legal aid to host Nigel Warren, who appealed a court ruling that it was illegal for him to rent out his room for a few days. He was fined $2,400 before the New York City Environmental Control Board reversed the fine. The Board decided that because his roommate, a permanent occupant, was present, the sublet was legal.
The vague nature of the law was enough to scare off a few hosts. Former host Megan of Park Slope told Metro that though she found most of her guests very friendly and enjoyed making the extra money without committing to a roommate, she stopped hosting because she feared legal trouble. “About a year ago, a few New York City hosts were sued by their landlords so I think a lot of us took our listings offline at that point,” she said. “We like our apartment enough to not want to lose our lease over it.” She added that if the laws change, she’d likely start hosting again.
Metro was not able to reach Schneiderman’s office for comment.