Airbnb fights New York’s subpoena for host data

New York is not a fan of Airbnb. The state really wants the company to pay hotel occupancy taxes on its rentals, and now Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is demanding that the room- and apartment-rental site give up data on its 15,000 hosts.

Schneiderman’s subpoena comes just days after Airbnb helped one of its hosts score a win in court. New York City host Nigel Warren was fined last summer for renting out a room in his apartment. The decision was reversed in late September.

“This decision was a victory for the sharing economy and the countless New Yorkers who make the Airbnb community vibrant and strong,” wrote David Hantman, Airbnb’s head of public policy, in a blog post following the reversal. “As I said last summer, the sharing economy is here to stay, and so are we.”

Not if New York State has anything to say about it. Warren may have been vindicated in his quest to rent out his room, but now Airbnb is coming under fire for violating a 2010 law that prevents apartment-dwellers from renting out their residences as hotel rooms.

You can rent an entire apartment for less than a midtown Manhattan hotel room.

About 225,000 New Yorkers have used Airbnb, but Schneiderman’s subpoena applies only to hosts. The company has until Monday to comply, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

“Even the politicians who wrote the original law agree it was never designed to target regular people who occasionally share their homes,” the company told the New York Daily News. “We are concerned that this is an unreasonably broad government demand for user data and we remain committed to protecting our users’ privacy.”

In a blog post last week detailing Airbnb’s origin story, cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky said 87 percent of New York hosts live outside of midtown Manhattan and are just trying to make ends meet. One is a Harlem student who rents out her apartment to save up enough to eventually buy it outright.

“We all agree that illegal hotels are bad for New York, but that is not our community,” Chesky wrote. “Our community is made up of thousands of amazing people with kind hearts. When Hurricane Sandy struck in late 2012, our hosts opened 1,400 homes to stranded evacuees. They didn’t provide just a place to stay: They personally connected with victims and offered comfort and support in a time of need.”

It’s a heartwarming story, to be sure, but that might not mean much to lawmakers.

Update: In a Monday blog post, Airbnb's David Hantman said the Attorney General's office is "seeking to target an incredibly small number of bad actors who abuse the Airbnb platform," such as slumlords and illegal hotel operators. Hantman said the company will continue conversations with Schneiderman over the next few days to reach a resolution that protects hosts' privacy.

"We are confident we can reach a solution that protects your personal information and cracks down on people who abuse the system," Hantman said.

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