Airbnb Objects to New York Probe Over Short-Term Rentals

Airbnb Inc., a short-term home rental service for travelers, said it objects to a request from the New York attorney general’s office for information about hosts who sublet apartments.

The San Francisco-based online service said today it filed a petition in state court in Albany, New York, to quash a subpoena from state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The petition couldn’t be immediately verified in court records.

In a copy of the petition documents provided by the company, Airbnb said the subpoena is a “fishing expedition” that wrongly seeks confidential information, including names, home addresses and tax information about the hosts.

Schneiderman’s office “has not articulated even minimal investigatory belief that any specific Airbnb host -- much less the majority of New York hosts -- has violated any law,” the company said in a memorandum. “Government and law enforcement agencies do not have an unfettered right to subpoena whatever data they want, whenever they want.”

Airbnb said it’s been in discussions with the attorney general’s office since at least Aug. 19 over the probe, which relates to whether the service’s users were paying applicable lodging taxes, according to the document.

“Airbnb is wrong on the merits, and wrong to obstruct the state of New York’s efforts to enforce the law,” Damien LaVera, a spokesman for Schneiderman said in an e-mail. “We are confident the courts will see through their stalling tactics, and allow the attorney general to enforce the law.”

Private Dwellings

The company said it offered to cooperate as long as the attorney general’s office helped create disclosures for the Airbnb website explaining when and how taxes should be paid. Schneiderman’s office refused and served a subpoena on Airbnb on Oct. 4, the company said.

New York City has been a legal battleground for Airbnb, which allows people to rent private dwellings as an alternative to hotels. A 2010 New York law bars renters from subletting apartments for fewer than 30 days with some exceptions.

Last month, the company helped a tenant who sublet his apartment through the service overturn a $2,400 fine levied by the city.

In an Oct. 6 blog post, Airbnb’s head of global policy, David Hantman, said the company wants “to work with governments to make the Airbnb community stronger.”

The demand from the New York attorney general seeking data on 15,000 New York Airbnb hosts, is “unreasonably broad and we will fight it with everything we’ve got,” he wrote.

The case is Airbnb Inc. v. Schneiderman, New York Supreme Court, County of Albany (Albany).

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