Look out, hosts: Airbnb is turning over names to the New York authorities

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Airbnb, which lets city dwellers rent out their homes on the internet, disclosed on Friday afternoon that it has turned over the identities of 124 of its hosts to New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman. The move comes as the latest twist in a long-running legal and public relations battle between Schneiderman and the startup over illegal rentals.

“[T]his request represents an incredibly small fraction of our New York hosting community — far less than 1 percent,” Airbnb stated in a blog post, adding that it believes Schneiderman is only going after those who flagrantly misuses the platform.

The blog post also explains that Airbnb has already contacted the 124 hosts to tell them it has disclosed their names and suggested that other New York hosts who have not heard from the company need not worry for now. Airbnb also added that most of the hosts it identified are no longer on the site and that those who are have multiple listings.

The underlying legal fight involves a law restricting short-term rentals and began in earnest last year when Schneiderman’s office issued a subpoena on Airbnb to gain the identities of its hosts. The company, which had agreed to provide anonymous data on 16,000 hosts but not their names, sued to quash the subpoena. A judge sided with Airbnb in March, ruling that the state’s subpoena was too broad.

Airbnb’s decision to identify the 124 hosts, who it describes in the blog post as “bad actors,” appears to be part of a recent and ongoing effort effort to make nice with regulators. The company has already agreed to collect hotel taxes in New York and San Francisco, and has been using increasingly conciliatory language in describing the government’s position.

For its part, the Attorney General’s office has repeatedly pointed to a law that makes it illegal for apartment dwellers to rent out their homes for less than 30 days, unless they are living in the place too. In electing to enforce the rule, Schneiderman may be concerned with lost tax revenue — but also by a desire to stand up for residents frustrated with de facto hostels sprouting up in their apartment buildings.

Airbnb, which recently raised $475 million, has countered by framing its service as part of a “sharing economy” and plastering New York City with ads like the ones below that tout the service as a benefit to residents:

Airbnb subway ad

 

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