Court rules in favor of Airbnb, ‘quashes’ New York subpoena

A New York judge has blocked a subpoena issued by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for personal information about users of Airbnb, the online apartment rental service.

The ruling Tuesday called the subpoena overly broad and targeted at information irrelevant to the state’s investigation.

Schneiderman is trying to uncover the identity of Airbnb hosts who are renting their apartments as hotel rooms in New York. It is illegal to rent a room for fewer than 30 days in the state if the owner or permanent tenant is not present. There is also the issue of taxes. Hotels typically pay a 15% occupancy tax while Airbnb hosts usually don’t pay the fee.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Airbnb announced, “This decision is good news for New Yorkers who simply want to share their home and the city they love. Now, it’s time for us to work together. Airbnb hosts and the attorney general share a common goal: we all want to make New York a better place to live, work and visit. We look forward to continuing to work with the attorney general’s office to make New York stronger for everyone.”

The judge’s ruling isn’t necessarily the final word, however. The attorney general could return with a revised subpoena that may stand a better chance of withstanding a legal challenge.

But short-term, at least, the news is good for Airbnb, which risked a chilling effect on its nearly 225,000 New York users. Some of them had raised concerns that their personal information would be handed over to the state. In fact, a petition against the subpoena garnered over 230,000 signatures back in December.

“I think it’s a positive development,” Arun Sundararajan, a professor of information, operations, and management sciences at New York University, said about the judge’s ruling. “Through the subpoena, the focus had shifted from the real underlying issue that there’s a misfit between the new way of providing accommodation and the old regulations.”

He added, “I think with this ruling, we can return the conversation to what’s a good way to come up with a good vision between the platform and the city government in regulating this space.”

Sundararajan also said that the decision will allow for partnership and dialogue between Airbnb and New York. “Cities like New York are perfect for this type of service,” he said. “I think it’s really important that this doesn’t end the conversation.”

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