City calls foul on Airbnb scrubbing illegal rental listings before opening books to lawmakers
New York Daily News | Erin Durkin
March 7, 2016
After news that Airbnb purged more than 1,000 shady listings from its site before opening its books to lawmakers, the city is demanding more data from the company – including the names and addresses of hosts who are breaking the law.
In a letter to Airbnb, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen said the quiet scrubbing shows that the company has the ability to root out hosts who violate rules, something she said it previously claimed to have no way to do.
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“Your confirmation of this purge shows an ability and willingness by Airbnb not only to identify hosts who violate multiple city and state laws, but also to drop these bad actors from your platform. You have previously indicated to us that these actions were not feasible or even possible,” Glen wrote to Airbnb director for global policy and public affairs Chris Lehane.
“Although the city is concerned that Airbnb chose not to disclose that it had purged bad actors from its platform before publicly releasing data regarding hosts, we are even more concerned by recent reports that these bad actors have begun to return to your site,” she wrote. “We request that you continue to proactively engage in this process and make efforts to prevent purged hosts from returning. Additionally we ask that you provide us with data on these individuals and any others who may be violating our laws.”
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Glen told the company to hand over the names and addresses of hosts who offer stays for fewer than 30 days and have two or more units listed, so the city can hit them with fines and other enforcement.
The city also plans to send requests to similar services like HomeAway, FlipKey, Vacation Rentals, and VRBO.
State law bars renting out an entire apartment for less than 30 days, though the city has indicated it’s less interested in going after residents who rent out their own homes part time, and more interested in landlords who run illegal hotels.
In its previous release of data, Airbnb detailed stats like where people are renting by ZIP code and how many hosts list multiple units. But it left out the identity of the users who were likely illegal hotel operators and didn’t specify how many listings were violating the state ban on short-term rentals.
Among the reams of additional info Glen requested was data for all bookings of entire homes for less than 30 days or where three or more guests are staying in the same home, and incidents when customers complain about unsafe conditions.
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“We agree that those who are engaging in unwelcome commercial activity are not operating in the best interest of New York City,” Josh Meltzer of Airbnb wrote in a reply to Glen. “We have sought to identify and remove unwelcome commercial listings in New York City on an ongoing basis. Additionally, under our new policy, if a host attempts to re-list a space we have removed or add new commercial listings under their account in New York City, we will suspend the account while we investigate.”
He did not commit to releasing the requested data, citing users privacy, but said officials would work with the city on providing additional information.
“The vast majority of Airbnb hosts in New York City are regular people – teachers, nurses, retirees – who rent their homes a few times a month to help make ends meet,” he wrote. “Middle class people should have the right to occasionally share their homes … and they should not face fines for doing so as some in New York have suggested.”