AirBnb

Airbnb Drops Lawsuit Against New York's Anti-Free-Speech Homesharing Law

Company abandons legal challenge after NYC promises not to bring enforcement actions against it. City says it will only target users.

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Sergi Reboredo/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Short-term rental service Airbnb has pulled out of a lawsuit challenging New York City's ban on advertising such rentals online.

In exchange for getting the company to drop the lawsuit, New York City agreed that it would not use the enforcement mechanisms—including the threat of fines of up to $7,500 for each listing—to target Airbnb and would only enforce the law against individual users. Since its passage in October, the law has drawn criticism for being a potential violation of the First Amendment since it bans a certain form of speech.

"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," said Peter Schottenfels, a spokesman for Airbnb, in a statement to Reason.

With the lawsuit resolved, it would seem New York's anti-Airbnb advertising law will remain in place. Even if there are no other legal challenges to the law, it's still not clear what this means for New York residents who use Airbnb or similar room-sharing services. We'll know more on December 19, when the city plans to hold a public hearing to discuss enforcement of the law.

So far, the city has said it will focus enforcement efforts on people who are running illegal hotels—those who are buying up space for the sole purpose of renting it through online platforms like Airbnb—rather than sharing their space.

Renting out apartments for fewer than 30 days and running a hotel without getting the proper permits from the city government were already illegal in New York before the new law was passed. The big policy change is the ability of the city to impose fines on anyone who even advertises their space for a short-term rental.

"It provides the city with an additional tool to use against those seeking to turn permanent homes into illegal, short-term stay hotels," said Melissa Grace, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a statement about the settlement. "The city will enforce this and other existing laws against bad actors."

In a parallel effort to shut down those so-called illegal hotels, Airbnb implemented a "One Host, One Home" policy in New York City that says the website's users can make only their own homes or apartments available for renting.

According internal Airbnb data that the company shared with Reason, 96 percent of entire-home hosts in New York City have just a single listing on the website, an indication that they are not running what the city would define as an illegal hotel.

In addition to targeting illegal hotels, the city originally justified the strict anti-Airbnb regulations by blaming the relatively new phenomenon of room-sharing for New York's decades-old affordable housing problems.

Airbnb's decision to drop the lawsuit does not make New York's short-term rental policy any better. The company got what it apparently wanted—a promise that it won't be held liable for violating the advertising ban—and hopefully the city will extend the same promise to law abiding residents who are offering their space for rent online. Still, there's no guarantee that will happen and, worse, other states and localities looking to restrict homesharing could be encouraged to copy New York's anti-free-speech policy.

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  1. Does this count as a kind of cronyism?

      1. There is a basic aspect to this that keeps getting ignored in news coverage (and in the above article as well): namely, the legislature has repeatedly refused to clarify whether rent-stabilized tenants have the right to use Airbnb to rent out spare rooms in their apartments, or whether doing so is a form of rent-gouging and hence grounds for eviction under the rent-stabilization statute. Landlords have been sending out letters threatening to evict rent-stabilized tenants if they continue to rent out rooms in their apartments, and since the law is unclear, the only rational thing to do is to agree to stop renting out the rooms. Since rents have become exorbitant over the past decade, this complete lack of clarity on what to many must be a basic survival issue is a welcome addition to the excellent legal devices that are gradually helping to stimulate gentrification throughout the city.

  2. “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,”

    Unsafe spaces: already illegal
    remove permanent housing off the market: In the first place, owner’s should be able to do whatever they want with their property, including leaving it completely vacant if they choose. In the second place, if there’s a housing shortage, perhaps you should tone down some of your obstructionist zoning and building codes.

    That this quote came from a tool within AirB&B tells me a rational argument for this issue is never going to be made.

    1. And whatever you do, don’t ask whether that shortage in permanent housing has anything to do with overregulation.

      1. Look at all the regulation, and yet the housing shortage persists.

        Literally no one could afford to live there if regulation wasn’t maintaining some sort of justice!

        /progressive Yogi Berra

  3. Buy a house and don’t live in it or rent it out — greedy investor.

    Buy a house and rent it out — greedy investor.

    You’d almost think there was some sort of hidden agenda.

    1. Agenda: Give us your fucking money, Lebowski.

    2. Buy a house and flip it for more money – greedy investor

      Buy a house, renovate it and ask for more rent – greedy investor

      Buy a house and run a home business out of it – greedy investor

      …just don’t buy in New York…

  4. “Massage parlors drop complaints about anti-prostitution statute after city agrees it will only target johns.”

    1. A Happy Ending!

  5. it would seem New York’s anti-Airbnb advertising law will remain in place
    Renting out apartments for fewer than 30 days and running a hotel without getting the proper permits from the city government were already illegal in New York

    hopefully the city will extend the same promise to law abiding residents who are offering their space for rent online

    I agree it’s a bad law, whose dual purpose is to protect hotel industry and line the city coffers with fines. “Law abiding” still looks like a wrong phrase. Maybe add an “otherwise”? Or skip it altogether?

    1. You cannot tax that which you cannot control.

  6. http://freebeacon.com/culture/…..ks-stress/

    VMI giving cadets coloring books for stress. We are so fucked. You know, maybe ISIS has a point. What the fuck is wrong with people?

    1. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure I see a downside to providing stress relief to future military personnel.

      1. My wife does adult coloring books for stress relief and relaxation, has a whole box of markers and everything. I don’t understand it but that doesn’t really seem like a reason to mock it. But I guess that’s different because vaginas and stuff.

  7. Disenfranchised White Working Class Males Concern Troll Campaign: Day whatever the fuck it is of 1460:

    The messy truth about the gulf between Trump and Clinton voters

    1. That’s enough, Van Jones.

    2. Forgive me for not paying attention, but is Van Jones like the Glenn Beck of the Left? 95% of the stuff I see him involved in is crazy and the other 5% is actually taking a risk and going off the reservation in an interesting way.

    3. What these conversations reinforced in my mind is the basic decency and dignity of the Trump voters. They are not blind to his flaws. They simply rank and balance his shortcomings differently than do his detractors.
      That’s important for Trump’s critics to know and understand.

      But that’s the “whitelash”, “how do I explain this to my children” guy, isn’t it?
      Gods help me, I was watching CNN that night, and I don’t remember him mentioning anything about decency.

  8. Company abandons legal challenge after NYC promises not to bring enforcement actions against it. City says it will only target users.

    VICTORY!

  9. In a parallel attempt to close down those so-called illegal hotels, yes I have read that Airbnb apply a “single Host, single Home” rule in New York City that says the site’s users can make only their own houses or apartments accessible for renting. Yourbestwriters Essays

  10. The hotel employee union is pretty strong in NY.

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