- By BRIAN R. FITZGERALD And
Airbnb, an online service that matches travelers with short-term rooms to rent in private homes, has been asked by New York state’s attorney general to hand over information on some of its users as the state examines possible violation of the law governing the operation of illegal hotels.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, in a subpoena issued on Friday, requested the company turn over data on Airbnb’s 15,000 New York-area members who rent their spaces, called “hosts,” according to a person familiar with the matter. The office has been looking into Airbnb for more than a month at the request of lawmakers and housing advocates, another person familiar with the matter said.
Including hosts and paying renters, Airbnb has about 225,000 members in its New York City community, which is the focus of the information request.
With Airbnb’s service, travelers get a place to stay—often in more residential neighborhoods and at a discount to traditional hotels—while the renters earn some money. Airbnb, which gets a cut on the transaction, relies on user profiles and reviews to build a community of trusted, credible renters and hosts.
The attorney general isn’t targeting vacationers or people who rent out their personal spaces for short periods. Instead, it is looking into people who might be trying to skirt New York’s laws by renting out multiple units or obtaining their primary residence through Airbnb for extended periods, the person said.
According to a person familiar with the investigation, Mr. Schneiderman is seeking data from Airbnb and similar rental services. The subpoena was first reported by the New York Daily News.
In a blog post on Sunday, David Hantman, Airbnb’s head of public policy, called the attorney general’s data demand “unreasonably broad.”
He said that Airbnb was working with lawmakers in New York and other cities to clarify community members’ tax obligations, as well as create a reporting structure to weed out “bad actors” in the community.
San Francisco-based Airbnb has until Wednesday to comply with the subpoena.
Airbnb has about 15,000 hosts—or people who share their living space—spread out among New York City’s five boroughs, with 87% of them renting out the homes that they live in.
An entity in violation of the state’s hotel tax law could have to pay the amount of tax owed, plus interest and penalties.
In May, a New York man was fined $2,400 for renting a room in an apartment, but last month the city reversed the penalty.
At issue in that case was whether there was another occupant was present at the time of the rental.
Airbnb at the time highlighted the rental case as an example of how complicated the laws are in New York, and said it would continue to work with the city.
Airbnb, which as of July had about 600 employees world-wide and was valued at $2.5 billion, is part of a new so-called “sharing economy,” which also includes car-sharing services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar,which connect paying passengers to drivers.
A version of this article appeared October 8, 2013, on page B3 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Airbnb Gets Subpoena for User Data in New York.