It was looking so promising – last month, supporters of the controversial sharing community site Airbnb were awarded a major coup when an appeals board reversed a ruling that had been levied against one of Airbnb’s users. Condo owner Nigel Warren had been slapped with a $2,400 fine by a city inspector for violating tenancy laws when he rented out a room in the condo to two Russian tourists. The appeals board however, ruled on Sept. 26 that a portion of the premises could be rented out to another tenant, as long as the owner were present during the stay.
Despite the win, it seems Airbnb’s fight is not quite over. Last Friday, the company which calls itself a “worldwide accommodations leader” was subpoenaed by the New York State's Attorney Office and ordered to turn over information about all of the company’s NY clients. The company had until today to comply with the order.
Airbnb is calling the subpoena “unreasonably broad” and says that it will “continue our conversations with the Attorney General’s office to see if we can work together to support Airbnb hosts and remove bad actors from the Airbnb platform.”
In the meantime, Airbnb’s Head of Public Policies, David Hantman, has been doing his best to reassure users. He noted in his blog post that the percentage of individuals that the state is actually after is an “incredibly small number” of the estimated 225,000 Airbnb users in NYC. The company continues to assert that its services are legal under NYC laws, although it has acknowledged that it sees itself in the midst of a battle to “fix the law that is at issue in this case.”
“Even the politicians who wrote the original New York law agree it was never designed to target ordinary, everyday people who occasionally share their homes,” Hantman wrote. “We want to continue to work with policymakers to clarify these rules, fight illegal hotels, and ensure people in New York can share their homes with travelers from around the world.”
Hantman also tried to reassure the company’s users that it is committed to protecting personal information in the process, which some worry could be in jeopardy in light of previous National Security Administration’s review of private emails and phone records.
Whether the subpoena spells real privacy concerns for its users isn’t clear at this point. What is clear is that New York City would represent considerable revenue loss for Airbnb if officials did find a way to curtail its operations in the Big Apple, or to deter potential users from accessing sites like Airbnb, Craigslist and Homeaway instead of hotels. And just the thought of having their rental records inspected by the government could be enough to make some users think twice about using the service, no matter how comfy a real home-away-from home may seem.
Image of Airbnb logo courtesy of Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta
Image of apartment door (Airbnb room rental) courtesy of Kevin Hale
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.