AirBnB New York City rentals investigated by AG Eric Schneiderman's office

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks with the media during a round table discussion at his White Plains office. (March 28, 2013) Photo Credit: Rory Glaeseman

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Airbnb Inc., the short-term home rental service for travelers, was asked to provide information to New York’s attorney general about its hosts who rent and sublet apartments, a person familiar with the probe said.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office issued a subpoena today for information about whether people who put units on the Airbnb website are complying with state rental laws, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the investigation isn’t public.

Airbnb allows people to rent dwellings on a short-term basis as an alternative to hotels. A 2010 New York law bars renters from subletting apartments for fewer than 30 days with some exceptions.

Schneiderman’s office is looking at whether property managers or brokers are skirting the law by renting out large numbers of units, or whether some individuals are using apartments for transient guests for large portions of the year, the person said. Casual hosts who occasionally rent personal apartments they own or lease through the service aren’t a target of the probe, the person said.

Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for Schneiderman, declined to comment.

Legal Battleground

New York City has been a legal battleground for Airbnb. Last month, the company helped a tenant who sublet his apartment through the service overturn a $2,400 fine levied by the city.

Democratic State Senator Liz Krueger, the author of the state’s illegal-hotel law, has called Airbnb’s business model “unambiguously illegal” in the city.

In a blog post yesterday, Airbnb’s head of global policy, David Hantman, said the company wants “to work with governments to make the Airbnb community stronger.”

The demand from the attorney general’s office, seeking data on 15,000 New York Airbnb hosts, is “unreasonably broad and we will fight it with everything we’ve got,” he wrote.

The company plans to continue conversations with Schneiderman’s office and try to remove “bad actors” from service while protecting hosts’ information, Hantman said. Airbnb is working with policy makers to try to clarify the rental laws and to find ways of ensuring that users pay applicable lodging taxes, he said.

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