New York City Sues Airbnb to Force Compliance With Subpoena
(Bloomberg) -- New York City asked a judge to order Airbnb Inc. to comply with a subpoena for information about its listings, just days after lawmakers demanded it share the names and addresses of hosts in the city.
In a lawsuit Friday, the city said Airbnb is “largely refusing to cooperate” with its investigation into illegal short-term rentals and refusing to produce “any records whatsoever.”
Christopher Nulty, an Airbnb spokesman, said Airbnb didn’t comply with the subpoena because it was too broad and requested information not related to the investigation. "We are committed to fighting for the privacy of our community and will not stand by silently while OSE attempts to game the legal system in order to continue to harass responsible New Yorkers who share their home," Nulty said in a statement.
The suit comes days after the city voted to require the home-sharing company to provide information about its hosts so the officials can police Airbnb users who run illegal hotels.
The new law requires Airbnb to provide the addresses and names of its hosts to the mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement. Airbnb must also reveal if its rentals are for a whole apartment or just a room -- disclosures that are designed to enforce a state law that makes it illegal for most landlords to rent an apartment for less than 30 days.
The lawsuit is the latest blow in an almost decade-long battle between the company and city officials, who argue the home-sharing company squishes housing supply and contributes to rising rents and gentrification.
Airbnb argues its helps homeowners afford their mortgages and brings tourism to neighborhoods that need a boost. This week an Airbnb host backed financially by the company sued the city, accusing officials of retaliating against him for speaking out in support of home rentals.
The company also says the new law is doing the bidding of the hotel industry, which Airbnb says has a powerful hold over local regulators. An investigation by Airbnb revealed that 15 of New York City’s 51 council members had received donations from the industry and related associations.
"Members of city council are nothing more than bell hops for the hotel operators," Airbnb’s head of global policy Chris Lehane said this week on a conference call with the media.
The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the suit.
The city said in its suit it’s trying to stop illegal conversions of residences into "ersatz hotels that deplete housing stock for New Yorkers, pose fire and building safety risks and deceive consumers." It said in its suit in state court in Manhattan that it’s attempting to “hold accountable all the responsible parties who have displaced permanent housing stock to advance their illegal business activity."
The city is probing the use of at least 26 of the 93 apartments in seven buildings on a stretch of 47th Street in Manhattan, and said it sent a subpoena to Airbnb in June seeking records of listings in those buildings, their hosts, and any guests who booked stays at those buildings.
Units in the buildings have been advertised on Airbnb on a “nearly non-stop” basis, the city said.
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