New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was delivered a set-back yesterday in his effort to prevent New Yorkers from illegally renting their apartments and bedrooms via the popular Internet site Airbnb.
A state judge ruled that the company did not have to comply with Schneiderman's request for customers' records. Airbnb's victory may be short-lived, however, because Schneiderman said he would draft a new subpoena to address the judge's concerns.
Stepping back from the ruling, Airbnb offers the flexibility and freedom that is part of a low-commitment culture the Internet is pivotal in providing the public. We no longer have to buy CDs when we can stream millions of them for the same price per month as it costs to buy one. We no longer need to set time aside to watch our favorite TV shows when we can binge-watch online (or use a DVR). And why should we commit to a long-term rental lease or pay exorbitant hotel prices when we can get a comfortable bed and a shower for a few nights in someone's house or apartment for a fraction of the cost?
Of course, people who make extra rental income should pay taxes like everyone else. But for the hotels complaining about unfair competition or people afraid that they no longer know who their neighbors are, there are equally valid counter arguments.
I live in Crown Heights and know people who have used Airbnb. There are few hotels in my neighborhood. The diverse mix of people from other countries that have found this leafy landmarked part of brownstone Brooklyn would never have set foot here if it wasn't for the website. A neighbor of mine owns a single-family town house. She recently lost her job and fell behind on her mortgage. She couldn't find a tenant willing to rent the entire house. Airbnb allowed her instead to rent individual rooms with a shared kitchen and bathrooms and get current with her bills.
Of course, some tourists can afford to stay in a Manhattan hotel, and they will always have that option. But there are many others who would love to visit New York and Airbnb offers a cheaper alternative. Also, there are many New Yorkers, myself included, who realize that there is now an affordable, more organic way for my family to see the world than those touted by the tourist industry.
Jeff Vasishta lives in Crown Heights.