Airbnb refuses to comply with state order to hand over users’ data

Airbnb has rejected an order by New York state to hand over data on 15,000 New York City residents who have used the site for short-term room and apartment rentals.

airbnb_800px“Airbnb has received a subpoena demanding personal information on all of our hosts in New York,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said in an email to hosts. “At this point, this demand is unreasonably broad and we will fight it with everything we’ve got.”

The state attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, issued a subpoena on Friday as part of an investigation into whether the company is breaking the law by allowing its users to rent rooms in private homes. The company had until Monday to comply.

The Illegal Hotel Law, or bill S06873B, was passed in New York in May 2011 to try to curb illegal hotels. It also prohibits residents of certain buildings from renting their accommodations for under 30 days. Airbnb often serves as a short-term alternative to hotels.

The company says 225,000 people in New York City have Airbnb accounts, but Schneiderman’s subpoena focuses on the personal details of the 15,000 who use the site to rent their accommodations out to other users. The attorney general’s office did not respond to request for comment.

In the email to hosts, Chesky reiterated the “fundamental principles” the company is advocating for in New York, which he outlined in a blogpost last week.

“Regular people renting out their own homes should be able to do so, and we need a new law that makes this clear,” Chesky said. He said that it makes sense for the site’s users to pay applicable taxes, and that the company wants to streamline that process and work with city officials to deal with complaints about “bad” guests who disturb neighbors.

“We believe the attorney general is only seeking to target an incredibly small number of bad actors who abuse the Airbnb platform,” said David Hantman, Airbnb’s head of global public policy, in a blogpost on Sunday. “That’s a goal we all share.”

He said that the company has been in conversations with Schneiderman’s office and “we will always be committed to protecting our hosts’ privacy”.

This is not the first time Airbnb has faced legal trouble in New York City. In September, Airbnb helped Nigel Warren, a New York customer, get a fine reversed when a judge found him in violation of the city’s short-term rental laws. The process of “micro-subletting” also technically violates many apartment lease agreements.

New York state senator Liz Krueger, who sponsored the illegal hotel bill, called the company’s behavior “pathologically irresponsible” in a May 2013 statement about the case.

“The real problem here is the devil-may-care attitude companies like Airbnb have taken toward the legal consequences for their users,”Krueger said. “Whether it’s laws like New York’s, or it’s the basic terms of use of a potential user’s apartment, companies like Airbnb or Flipkey are recruiting private citizens into their business model without sufficiently warning them that it may not be legal, and could even lose them their homes.”