Summary:

A judge quashed a subpoena seeking data about every Airbnb host in New York. The move is a victory for Airbnb, but it doesn’t stop the government from trying again with a narrower subpoena.

Judge with gavel
photo: Rubberball / Corbis

A judge on Tuesday thwarted the state of New York’s efforts to obtain information about hosts who rent apartments on Airbnb, the popular “sharing economy” website. In a 13-page decision, Justice Gerald Connolly granted Airbnb’s request to quash a subpoena that demanded a spreadsheet of every host in the state.

The ruling is a victory for Airbnb, which has been in a long-running legal and public-relations fight with regulators in New York and elsewhere.

According to Connolly, the subpoena was overly broad because it failed to exempt hosts in smaller New York towns, to which the hotel law in question doesn’t apply, and because it did not acknowledge the law’s exemption for “rentals for less than 14 days, or for fewer than three occasions during the year.”

The decision, however, also rejected Airbnb’s claims that the demands — in which the state sought information about the hosts’ identify and income from Airbnb — were overly burdensome or unconstitutional.

The upshot is that the Attorney General has, for now, failed to obtain the host information it sought. The AG can, of course, redraft the subpoena on narrower lines, possibly to target only the bigger fish on Airbnb (like this Brooklyn bartender making $45,000 a year).

In a statement, Airbnb declared that the ruling was “good news” but also struck a conciliatory tone:

Airbnb hosts and the Attorney General share a common goal: we all want to make New York a better place to live, work and visit. We look forward to continuing to work with the Attorney General’s Office to make New York stronger for everyone.

The decision comes after Airbnb earlier said it is willing to collect hotel taxes on behalf of New York, and to work with the government to address problems related to tourists invading residential apartments.

Airbnb has gained widespread popularity as a cheaper alternative to hotels, and a way for cash-strapped city residents to earn extra income. But it has also produced a backlash, including a proposal in San Francisco for residents to share in a bounty for turning in unlicensed hosts.

Here’s a copy of the ruling with some of the key parts underlined:

Airbnb New York Decision

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