Airbnb fights to stay above the law

By Melissa Lesh

24 April 2014 at 08:20 BST

Homestay hotel alternative Airbnb is battling New York's Attorney General, who wants to subpoena Airbnb host information in a case which may set an international legal precedent.

Airbnb Inc. is battling New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who requested information on people who list their homes on the site. Tupungato

Airbnb said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s request is a ‘government-sponsored fishing expedition.’  Schneiderman is investigating the tech site’s legality in New York, where a law prohibits absent residents from renting out their homes for less than 30 days.  As of 31 January, about 60 per cent of Airbnb’s New York listings appear to have violated that law.  Schneiderman spokesman Matt Mittenthal said Airbnb's role in these law violations demonstrate that the site is too self-interested to heed a law meant to protect ‘quality of life for building residents and safety for tourists.’

Economic implications

Internet Association CEO Michael Beckerman defended the website and said Airbnb promotes tourism and stimulates local economies.  Jonathan Wekin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, said: ‘New York City’s affordable housing crisis has reached epic proportions and websites like Airbnb have only exacerbated the problem.’   Airbnb was most recently valued at $10b and expects to make $768m off of New York activity in the coming year. 

International impact

New York State Senator Liz Kreuger said other US cities such as Boston, Chicago, and San Fransisco have encountered similar problems with Airbnb: She said: 'The problem is becoming international.'  Kreuger and other Congressmen are demanding law reform  that will more strictly regulate sites like Airbnb, where illegal transactions can take place for which the tech site itself is not currently held responsible.


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