Airbnb drops ‘bad ads’ suit

Opponents of Airbnb at a City Council hearing in January 2015. Villager file photo

BY JACKSON CHEN | Airbnb, the popular home-sharing company, recently settled its lawsuit against a new state law that penalizes those who advertise illegal listings of short-term residential rentals.

New York State already had prohibited the rental of unoccupied apartments for periods of less than 30 days. But Governor Andrew Cuomo, on Oct. 21, approved a law stiffening those restrictions by fining advertisers of such rentals up to $7,500. Chief among the targets are people renting out their apartments through Airbnb, as well as landlords offering short-term stays in vacant apartments.

Airbnb filed suit against Eric Schneiderman, the state’s attorney general, New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio, for alleged violations of the First Amendment and the Communications Decency Act, which frees Web site operators from liability for what users post on their sites.

Airbnb dropped the lawsuit Dec. 2 after a settlement under which enforcement efforts would target the hosts who operate illegal hotels — both landlords and individual tenants — not the company hosting the listings Web site.

Airbnb spokesperson Peter Schottenfels hailed the agreement.

“We see this as a material step forward for our hosts,” he said, “with Airbnb and the city agreeing to ‘work cooperatively on ways to address New York City’s permanent housing shortage.’ We look forward to using this as a basis to finding an approach that protects responsible New Yorkers while cracking down on illegal hotels that remove permanent housing off the market or create unsafe spaces.”

Schottenfels noted that Airbnb’s “One Host, One Home,” started last month, restricts allowable hosts in the city to those renting only a portion of their home while they remain in residence, a limitation he said would help address New York’s housing shortage.

It’s likely, however, that many hosts in the city rent out their apartments while they are not there.

Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, sponsor of the new law, said it was written to punish those who frequently post multiple listings and short-term rentals of their unoccupied apartments and not the company’s Web site itself.

“We crafted the bill so Airbnb would not be the target,” she said. “We weren’t going to try to slip something in against federal law. But I think [Airbnb] decided they were going to sue and was forced to make good on their promise.”

Rosenthal urged Airbnb to better police its listings and hire a monitor to sweep the Web site daily. In the last year, Airbnb said it removed 3,400-plus listings from its site apparently posted by hosts with multiple listings.