Michael Virtanen, The Associated Press, April 23, 2014
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Airbnb has urged a New York judge to reject a subpoena for information about those using the global website to offer apartment rentals in New York City, its attorney calling that "a fishing expedition."
The subpoena filed last year by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is improperly "overbroad" and certain to snare information about thousands people who haven't broken any laws, attorney Roberta Kaplan said Tuesday.
"This is private information. This is confidential information," she said.
State investigators are seeking that information about its so-called "hosts" going back three years, and it's clear from press reports they're not interested in charging everyone who may casually sublet their city apartments with a misdemeanor, Kaplan said. She questioned whether authorities intend to cull the information looking for "a back way" to get tax information, while noting exceptions in tax law that the subpoena ignored.
Countering Tuesday in court, Executive Deputy Attorney General Karla Sanchez said many listings on the Airbnb website are for entire apartments, apparently unoccupied, for less than 30 days that violate the state law against illegal and unregulated hotels. She said they're not investigating the website. "We're investigating the hosts," she said.
The subpoena seeks host names, addresses, rental rates, lengths of stay and tax data first requested last fall.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Gerald Connolly questioned both lawyers, refused to accept any late evidence that missed the filing deadlines and adjourned without ruling from the bench, but inviting both sides to talk it over and see him. They left instead.
"Today, the Attorney General again made it clear that he remains determined to comb through the personal information of thousands of regular New Yorkers just trying to make ends meet," David Hantman, Airbnb's head of global public policy, said in a blog post afterward. "We were proud to stand up for our hosts who share their homes, and against this over-broad, government sponsored fishing expedition. Cities like Paris, Amsterdam and Hamburg are embracing the sharing economy and New York shouldn't be stuck playing catch-up."
In an affidavit Connolly rejected Tuesday as filed too late, a researcher for the attorney general said Airbnb listed 19,522 city rentals Jan. 31, from 15,677 apparently separate hosts, nearly all for less than 30 days. Almost 64 percent were for the entire apartment, indicating the host would be absent.
The law prohibits owners or renters of apartments in multi-unit buildings from renting them for less than 30 days unless they remain present. The law permits having boarders or renting rooms.
"Despite all of AirBnb's rhetoric, the company has never denied that substantial illegal activity is taking place on its site," Schneiderman spokesman Matt Mittenhall said late Tuesday. "To the contrary, Airbnb decided before our hearing to remove 2,000 listings posted by 'bad actors' — hardly isolated cases. The Attorney General will continue to stand up for the law that protects building residents and tourists alike, and we await the judge's decision."
Authorities say the goal is to prevent a host of short-term strangers and transients from renting city apartments meant for permanent residents and from unfairly competing with hotels. In court papers, Assistant Attorney General Clark Russell said police have received "numerous complaints" about illegal rentals, which has been confirmed by the attorney general's investigation.