Airbnb Files Federal Suit Against New York For Banning And Fining Hosts Trying To Rent Vacant Apartments

Is a website responsible for the actions of its users? A recent court case between online marketplace and homestay network Airbnb and New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will settle the question of whether or not a company such as Airbnb is responsible for a user’s illegal activities.

The lawsuit alleges that some landlords illegally listed rentals for longer periods than is allowed by the law. In New York City, unless a property is deemed a hotel or hostel, renters become “permanent residents” after thirty days. It is not illegal, however, if the lessor also occupies the same apartment as the renter and if all parts of the apartment are available to the paying guest. These landlords are listing vacant rentals on Airbnb for longer than thirty days, though. Essentially, they are using the website to obtain short-term renters. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed law that prohibits illegal listings like this and Airbnb has responded with its own court case.

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Airbnb was originally intended as a way for homeowners to temporarily rent out their space to tourists. Home and property owners are able to put a little extra money in their pocket, while tourists are able to stay at a homey and affordable spot during their trip. Airbnb takes a cut of the revenue when a room or a home is booked and charges a service fee to the guests.

Airbnb argues that the New York law violates the company’s rights to free speech, and conflicts with federal laws intended to aid online business. They stated that the law "creates the incorrect perception that Airbnb’s own activities are unlawful. This perception will lead to the sort of reputational injury and loss of goodwill that irreparably harms a business."

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New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman responded, “Airbnb can’t have it both ways: It must either police illegal activity on its own site, or government will act to protect New Yorkers.”

Airbnb has been under fire for quite some time. Critics of the website have contended that in popular tourist destinations it has reduced affordable housing, driven up home prices, and disrupted neighborhoods with temporary visitors. Airbnb is currently fighting laws and criticism in San Francisco, Berlin, and Barcelona as a result.

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