Airbnb Under Pressure, Agrees To Hand Over Data To NY's Attorney General

from the makes-ny-less-interesting-to-visit dept

As we've discussed a few times, NY's Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, has been trying to go on a fishing expedition through Airbnb's records, looking for what he calls "illegal hotels." Of course, he's more or less admitted that he's doing this to protect big NYC hotels from being disrupted. Last week, Airbnb actually won in court, quashing Schneiderman's subpoena, though Schniederman just turned around and issued a new subpoena to deal with the deficiencies of the first one.

Recognizing that it was going to run into issues eventually, Airbnb has worked out a "settlement" with Schneiderman, in which it will provide anonymous data, but if Schneiderman finds information that he thinks indicates an "illegal hotel" he can go back to the company to get identifying information. Airbnb says it hopes that Schneiderman is really just focused on true large-scale abusers, many of which it has already removed from the system itself:
The Attorney General's Office will have one year to review the anonymized data and receive information from us about individual hosts who may be subject to further investigation. We believe the Attorney General's Office is focused on large corporate property managers and hosts who take apartments off the market and disrupt communities. We have already removed more than 2,000 listings in New York and believe that many of the hosts the Attorney General is concerned about are no longer a part of Airbnb.
As I've mentioned in the past, I've used Airbnb to find places to stay in NYC a few times now, and it's been an absolutely wonderful experience, significantly better and more convenient than staying in Manhattan hotels. The accommodations, location and service were all significantly better. At least two of the hosts whose places I've stayed at own multiple apartments and rent them out via Airbnb, and it seems ridiculous that they might be shut down because of this. Yes, there are specific "hotel" regulations in NYC, but it seems silly to apply most of them to these kinds of small businesses, where the platform and competition do a great job of keeping them honest. The hosts always seemed to go out of their way to make sure that staying at their apartments was a great experience worth coming back again in the future. Yes, it's possible that some people are somehow abusing the system, but it seems likely that plenty of small time entrepreneurs are going to get swept up in this effort to protect big hotels from disruption.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Scote, May 21st, 2014 @ 2:17pm

    Why

    "At least two of the hosts whose places I've stayed at own multiple apartments and rent them out via Airbnb, and it seems ridiculous that they might be shut down because of this. Yes, there are specific "hotel" regulations in NYC, but it seems silly to apply most of them to these kinds of small businesses, where the platform and competition do a great job of keeping them honest."


    Given that some hotel regulations seem to be designed to be barriers to entry to the market, I have some sympathy for this line of reasoning, but, on the other hand, people who rent out empty apartments as short term rentals are professional hostelers, and should be subject to reasonable business and safety regulations. Whereas it seems that most "professional" Abnb operators don't even have the minimum business license that the most basic of small business are required to have.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 2:22pm

    why on earth is there so much fuss made of this and the likes of Uber, except because the 'established methods' are 'encouraging' the law sections to harass. the USA is one of the worst places for competition in all areas, keeping the 'old guard' in control and fighting tooth and nail to keep it that way!! funny how those that are fighting so hard now against competition were the ones complaining years ago over the exact same issue and the fact that they couldn't get in!!

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 2:31pm

    Another case of the richer party forcing the poorer party to comply with their wishes or go bankrupt. In this case tax payers money was being used to but the desired decision.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 2:37pm

    The politician's schedule:

    12 PM: Wake up.
    1 PM: Rant and rave to the press about how important job creation is.
    2 PM: Kill off a few thousand small businesses.
    3 PM: Party on company yacht #4.
    6 PM: Still partying.
    9 PM: Still partying.
    12 AM: Pass out drunk.

     

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  5.  
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    PRMan, May 21st, 2014 @ 2:48pm

    Why?

    Why do people think that the original regulations are there in the first place?

    They all came about because of complaints from travelers. Maybe reform could be looked at, but I don't see why people renting on airBnB regularly shouldn't follow the established rules.

     

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  6.  
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    Groaker (profile), May 21st, 2014 @ 3:11pm

    Corruption and law

    Such is the de facto standard of "law" these days. This attorney general, and the one that preceded him are totally ruthless in obtaining support by large corporations. They will do just about anything to provide succor to their masters.

    Letres de cachet have moved downhill from the last several presidents to just about everyone in the legal system.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Scote, May 21st, 2014 @ 3:12pm

    Re: Why?

    "They all came about because of complaints from travelers. Maybe reform could be looked at, but I don't see why people renting on airBnB regularly shouldn't follow the established rules."

    That is a good point. Many regulations are there to protect consumers. But it is also the case that regulations often go beyond measures meant to actually protect consumers. We see that clearly in many states where cosmetology or hairdressing licenses require on order 1,500 hours of training.

    I think Airbnb hostelers need to be regulated, but I can see that regulations that apply to a 100 room hotel might be overkill. In my area you need to get the land lord's permission to have a business license for a home office - the same rule could easily apply to Airbnb. I don't see why Airbnb should be subject to a more lacks set of standards than someone doing consulting from their living room.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 4:09pm

    Schneider-Man, Schneider-Man!
    Does whatever a Schneider can.
    Spins bullshit any time.
    Makes AirBnBs some type of crime.
    Look out, here comes the Schneider-Man.

     

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  9.  
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    DavidF18, May 21st, 2014 @ 4:34pm

    Safety issues

    Airbnb should not be in NYC unless they open their own low-cost hotel which I *do* support. People pay a lot of money for *safe* apartments in Manhattan and the rest of NYC, many of which have doormen for additional security. It is really best if people staying with an apartment renter/owner be someone that that renter/owner knows.

    Again, I strongly support Airbnb working with a partner to create low cost hotels in Manhattan and the rest of NYC. That would be great, but please respect the feelings of those of us that live in NYC who value our safety and keep transients out of our apartment buildings.

     

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  10.  
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    Groaker (profile), May 21st, 2014 @ 4:41pm

    The AG admitted it was for protection of big hotels rather than guests.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 5:48pm

    "I've used Airbnb to find places to stay in NYC a few times now, and it's been an absolutely wonderful experience"

    Bedbugs

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 5:49pm

    Re: Re: Why?

    We see that clearly in many states where cosmetology or hairdressing licenses require on order 1,500 hours of training.

    If you've ever seen Masnick's haircut, you'd understand why this is a good idea.

     

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  13.  
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    Groaker (profile), May 21st, 2014 @ 6:09pm

    I lived in NYC for more than 20 years. It is far less dangerous than many other parts of the US that I have known. It does not even make the top ten in crime statistics.

    Unless otherwise prohibited by leasing or joint ownership contracts, everyone has the right to lease out their lawful property. You may not like it, but you have to live with it. Living in NYC provides no one with special privileges.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    whatever, May 21st, 2014 @ 6:20pm

    Re: Re: Why?

    We see that clearly in many states where cosmetology or hairdressing licenses require on order 1,500 hours of training.

    Don't confuse training in a classroom with on the job hours of supervised work (apprenticeship), which is a very different thing. It certainly protects a consumer when someone is not only trained on a classroom level, but also has relevant work experience in the field, supervised by others who know how it's done.

    I think Airbnb hostelers need to be regulated, but I can see that regulations that apply to a 100 room hotel might be overkill.

    There are plenty of small hotels and inns that still have to abide by the rules. Remember, many of those rules are in regards to things like handicap access, fire exits, and other issues that deal directly with public safety. If you cut corners and ignore all the rules, you can surely offer a cheaper product. But I am also sure that many of the people supporting airbnb would be equally outraged when something bad happens at some point (and it will, almost certainly).

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 22nd, 2014 @ 1:55am

    Re: Why?

    Why do people think that the original regulations are there in the first place?

    Pre-Internet people could not easily share information about their experiences and regulation was and is a substitute for this lack of information. Now with the Internet, people can share their experiences, which give a much better guide that conformity to regulation. You do not have to rely only on the site where you find a place to stay, but can also run a search to double-check it.
    The Internet is changing governance and regulation, and putting more power in the hands of the people, and stripping it away from government bureaucracies.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Whatever, May 22nd, 2014 @ 2:48am

    Re: Re: Why?

    So you honestly think people are going to measure door openings, verify that all the smoke detectors are working and that the alarm system is connected to a central office, that wheelchair access is complete, and all those other things... and report it online... and that is going to replace true safety inspections, fire regulations, insurance requiremnents, and the like?

    Regulations are not there to make sure you have a fluffy pillow or a nice towel. It's to make sure the room is safe, that you can get out in case of a fire, and that everything is up to standard. None of that is going to get featured in an internet review, but makes all the difference when you really need those things to be right.

     

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  17.  
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    Groaker (profile), May 22nd, 2014 @ 3:44am

    Issues like this are always a potential problem when two individuals contract. But I repeat, these types of rentals predate the internet, and have been in existence for a very long time. Given that, I must assume that they work. I have used them myself on a number of occasions, and never been dissatisfied.

    There is no lawful obligation to make such a rental friendly to the disabled, which is opposed to that of a hotel. There is no obligation to install an elevator for a building owner to install an elevator in a four floor walkup. If it is an issue for the lessee, then it is the obligation of the lessee to include that guarantee in the contract. The law does not exist to protect everyone from everything that can occur between two contracting individuals. Those become civil matters. The provision of linens, dinnerware, and other items are specified ahead of time. There is never a guarantee of a nice fluffy pillow at less than upper class hotels.

    The law has long distinguished between large occupancy hotels, apartment BUILDING owners, Co-ops, etc, and that which is permisable in the rental of a single family unit between two individuals.

    In short, your arguments are strawmen. Some people want to control how others use their property because they might find the lessee offensive. Or perhaps the neighbors may fear become anxious. Guess what. There is no right to be free of be free of self generated fear.

    In fact, no one knows that they are not living next to a serial killer right now. Indeed, we know that some people are.

    If someone found short term rentals objectionable, then it was their obligation not to buy/lease in a building that allowed them. To make such a complaint now is an attempt to rewrite a contract.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 22nd, 2014 @ 3:57am

    Re: Safety issues

    If you want AirBnB to open a low cost hotel, you really don't understand what Air Bnb is supposed to be....

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 22nd, 2014 @ 3:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Why?

    All your concerns apply to domestic residences, and should be adequately covered by planning regulations, and regulations over landlords. If the building is safe to live in, it is also safe for travelers, and to argue otherwise is to use regulation to regulate competition and not safety.

     

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  20.  
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    Groaker (profile), May 22nd, 2014 @ 4:34am

    Still strawman arguments.

    If someone thinks this is not safe, then they shouldn't rent one.

    I guess that the fire code has to be far safer for someone staying a night than it does for a family that lives there the rest of the year. Because clearly the life of the overnighter is far more important than that of the owner(s).

    I now live in a residential community that has contractual codes. I am not allowed to have more than two horses. If I had wanted three, I should not have bought the house I live in, not whined that the family next door owns three horses, but never has more than two on their property at any one time. They are rotating them out, and who knows what the horse coming back is going to do.

    If someone wants access to the Chelsea Square gardens, then you have to buy/lease in the location. If someone doesn't want to live in a building that allows subletting, then don't buy/lease in that building. Above all read the contract before signing for leases or purchases. If someone is subletting in violation of contract, they can go to the building manager, and court if need be. Otherwise it is no more than was signed on for.

    When residences are swapped, as opposed to being sublet, the argument becomes one of are guests allowed. Can they stay overnight? Does that mean I can't have a friend stay over a couple of nights whether I am home or not? Can one come over for coffee? There are residential associations that do not allow overnight guests, and limit the times when guests may be present. For all I know there are possibly some that don't allow guests at all. Contractual agreements.

    Some people think that contracts only have meaning when they are convenient for them, and are meaningless, or exist only to be "gotten around" when they are inconvenient to themselves, or they just like to harass others. The courts are often full of such people. One clod hit the news a couple of days ago. He was bitten on a bus by a dog. OK, that deserves a suit if the dog owner doesn't step up. But there was also a suit against a couple who took a picture of this. Public place, no expectation of privacy. Incidentally the suit was for some $2,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 plus punitive damages -- which is more money than there will ever be on the earth unless inflation gets really, really bad. Many other complaints and suits have the same validity.

     

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  21.  
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    The Wanderer (profile), May 22nd, 2014 @ 5:06am

    Re:

    I'd vote this Funny, except that the meter is broken; the fourth line has nine syllables, due to the fact that each letter of "BnB" is pronounced separately, where the original only had six.

    You could fudge it with seven syllables, or (with the right syllables) maybe even eight, but nine just can't be done smoothly here.

     

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  22.  
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    BJC (profile), May 22nd, 2014 @ 5:06am

    Sympathetic to the AG

    I understand the practical arguments that many folks are making, that AirBnB's benefits and efficiency stem from not being regulated as a hotel, but I just can't get angry about it, for the following reasons:

    1) If you own property on the island of Manhattan that you have the right to sublet without breaking the law or the terms of your lease/co-op agreement, you are not "the little guy" as we understand that term. "The little guy" is the immigrant non-veteran who can't start a food stall because NYC won't give out any permits, or the guy who can't get a yellow cab because the medallions cost over a million bucks. You are a person who owns real estate with a value equal to multiple single-family homes in the midwest.

    Yeah, people in the 1% are people too, but when we're talking about "big corporations" vs. AirBnB owners, in NYC this is more like when some multimillionaire doesn't like how she has to add low-flow toilets when renovating her $26M historic brownstone. Yeah, low-flow toilets are stupid and cost more. No, I don't feel that sorry about your burden of compliance with a stupid regulation.

    You could argue that, if we're talking about a one-bedroom or studio in certain parts of the city, compliance costs relative to the income of the owner become more proportionally burdensome, but my point is still that, if you're an AirBnB landlord in NYC, you're playing (even at a low level) a rich man's game.

    2) Complying with NYC regulations sucks, to be sure, but the voters of the City and State, through their democratic processes, WANT to be regulated like this. Rent control is undying. The "pro-business" nanny mayor was replaced with a "pro-worker" nanny mayor. Laws to "do something" about a major crisis get passed really quickly, and these guys get reelected.

    Sure, there's some industry-related regulatory capture, but there's also a lot of union and community-based voting bloc regulatory capture where these regulations represent the interests of decent-sized groups of actual voters.

    So, unless we want democracy to be subordinate to anarcho-capitalist principles in all instances, we have to accept that sometimes, a perfectly good business model will have to bend to regulations we think are misguided because we are not the average NY voter. If we voted in that jurisdiction, we either lost that election or made a compromise because the guy less likely to support dumb regulation also hated gay people or something.

    3) I do not understand why, if you rent out your place for a short period of time, NY doesn't get to collect hotel tax. Either at the individual level or at the point where AirBnB aggregates all those rooms, hotel tax or some other real estate tax has to apply. Just because something's new, clever, and convenient does not mean that taxes cannot be imposed, even if those taxes make that thing less clever or convenient (see my point above on how the law is not subordinate to anarcho-capitalist principles).

    And if thousands of people are avoiding tax (or one company is avoiding thousands of taxable transactions), the NY attorney general has a right to subpoena information allowing for collection of that tax. That's pretty standard in how taxes work.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 22nd, 2014 @ 5:58am

    We have steady supply of Craigslist killers, so I am patiently waiting for Airbnb killers. They have potential to be class on their own.

    After all, Airbnb already has secret crews on standby in strategic markets to clean condoms and wash sperm from walls.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Whatever, May 22nd, 2014 @ 7:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Why?

    Actually, the laws for hotels (and other commercial structures) are different from residences. There are all sorts of housing that is grandfathered in a way that it avoids modern building codes. Yet, operate a commercial space, and you have marked exits, sprinklers, alarm systems connected to central monitoring, yadda yadda. You know the drill. Private residences do not have the same egress requirements, as having a large enough window is sufficient for residential exit but is not always enough for a commercial fire exit.

    The concept is pretty simple: A traveller is not likely to know the entire layout of a place. That is why hotels are required by law to clearly mark fire exits, and to have an emergency exit plan in place (usually on the back of the entrance door). That is so someone who is not familiar with the building (say from living there for a while) can exit safely in case of an emergency.

    The problem that you face here is that the regulations are in place often as a result of tragedy, of a failure, or of a near miss that could have been avoided. The requirement for sprinklers, as an example, is enough to disqualify 90% of the housing in New York from commercial use.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    DavidF18, May 22nd, 2014 @ 9:08am

    Re: Re: Safety issues

    I understand two things: 1) that AirBnB is attempting to provide lower cost alternatives to housing
    2) people living in apartment buildings do not want transients who might be sex offenders, violent criminals, thieves, or people with untreated mental illness who might become violent in their apartment buildings.

    If you really think this through, the best alternative is to have a separate facility for transients apart from one where people live.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 22nd, 2014 @ 9:31am

    Re: Re: Re: Safety issues

    2) people living in apartment buildings do not want transients who might be sex offenders, violent criminals, thieves, or people with untreated mental illness who might become violent in their apartment buildings.

    All of which are more likely when residents bring friends/sexual partners home, than from someone looking for a place to stay for a few days when on a business trip.

     

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  27.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 22nd, 2014 @ 10:05am

    Re: Re: Re: Safety issues

    "that AirBnB is attempting to provide lower cost alternatives to housing"

    AirBnB provides no housing, low cost or otherwise. They're more like a dating service. They connect two parties -- people with spare rooms and people who want to stay in them -- together.

    "people living in apartment buildings do not want transients who might be sex offenders, violent criminals, thieves, or people with untreated mental illness who might become violent in their apartment buildings."

    This is a totally bogus argument for two reasons: first, people who live in apartment building already have this exact risk going on whether or not anyone is subletting rooms. Second, this is better remedied through terms in the apartment building's lease/rental agreement, which can easily disallow subletting. Indeed, in my part of the country, I have never once seen a lease that didn't specifically disallow subletting.

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 22nd, 2014 @ 10:06am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Why?

    When is the transition from renting an apartment or house to running a hotel made? I ask this because as I understand it Airnb is facilitating short term lets, rather than providing hotel services. I presume a letting service is legal in New York.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    DavidF18, May 22nd, 2014 @ 10:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Safety issues

    It doesn't make sense that AirBnb or any other firm can have a business model that makes and other tenants of NYC apartments be less safe, when a lot of what we pay for is doormen, etc. to have safe apartments.

    I don't think anyone else besides me commenting to this post actually lives in an apartment in NYC. Do a survey of those who live in apartments in NYC and you will find that we *do not want* transients living in our apartment buildings.

    A far more sensible model for AirBnb is to build/buy facilities that are exclusively used for transients and I would encourage AirBnb to do that rather than put the residents of NYC (or SF or any other city) at risk.

    I assure you that AirBnB will get much more support here in NYC if they follow a more sensible, safe strategy that does not threaten our safety.

    I wonder why is it so hard for people to understand that we do not want transients in our apartment buildings and that we need laws to protect our safety? This is not very difficult to understand.

     

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  30.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 22nd, 2014 @ 10:45am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Safety issues

    "A far more sensible model for AirBnb is to build/buy facilities"

    So you're saying that a far more sensible model is for them to give up the business they're in and go into a different business entirely?? How is that different than saying that a far more sensible model is for them to go out of business?

    "I wonder why is it so hard for people to understand that we do not want transients in our apartment buildings and that we need laws to protect our safety?"

    I wonder why it's so hard for people to understand that this is a matter than can easily be handled by the apartment building owners themselves, right now, without any need for new or controversial legislation? If your building feels unsafe to you, then your building owner should use their well-established powers to fix that. If they don't, that's the fault of the landlord, not of companies like AirBnb.

     

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  31.  
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    Gwiz (profile), May 22nd, 2014 @ 11:19am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Safety issues

    I wonder why is it so hard for people to understand that we do not want transients in our apartment buildings...


    Do all New Yorkers call tourists and visiting business people "transients"?

    If so, then you might not have much to worry when it comes to AirBnb, because that by itself could quash any interest in visiting your city.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 22nd, 2014 @ 12:31pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Safety issues

    Yeah, that certainly doesn't help. Although I have to admit that many of the things New York has done under Bloomberg (such as stop and frisk) has already removed any desire I once had to visit the city anyway.

     

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  33.  
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    Groaker (profile), May 22nd, 2014 @ 2:39pm

    New York is an extremely large state, certainly not confined to the wee bit that makes up NYC. Some in NYC believe that mere inclusion in the geographic boundaries provides instantaneous sophistication beyond the abilities of mere mortals with undesirable zipcodes.

    I have lived both within NYC, and in upstate NY. I prefer upstate where there are areas that have likely not known the footprint of humans.

    There are many interesting, unique and educational splendors in NYC, but it is considered gauche to actually visit them. For myself, I did not go to the Empire State Building or visit the Statue of Liberty until requested to do so by a visiting friend from Ohio.

    Most of those that I know who dwell withing the city limits have not made these or other pilgrimages either. Unlike many in NYC, when I lived there, I did have a great fondness for the museums and zoos.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
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    Groaker (profile), May 22nd, 2014 @ 2:45pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Why?

    Housing laws in NYC are more than archaic, and complex enough to keep a battalion of attorneys busy 24 hours a day. Sublet legality may at this point in time and space be legal under certain conditions. But landlords and residents committees are generally not fond of them.

    As far as making NYC less safe, that is tripe. This business has been going on for decades. It is just that the average NYC resident was not aware of the practice until recently.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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