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Airbnb Wins Preliminary Ruling Blocking NYC Demand for Data

Airbnb Inc. and other home-sharing firms won’t have to comply with a New York City law requiring them to turn over renter data until a lawsuit over the issue is resolved, giving the company a reprieve from a rule that threatened to cut its bookings in the city by half.

U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer on Thursday granted a request from Airbnb and HomeAway Inc. for a temporary injunction against the city ordinance, which was set to take effect Feb. 2. He ruled the companies are likely to win on their claim that the law violates the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

New York City council members voted 45-0 in July to restrict people in renting their apartments to tourists — a practice the city says raises rents, increases gentrification and disrupts neighborhoods because short-term rentals can be more profitable than long-term leases.

Under the law, Airbnb and similar sites must turn over to the city the names and addresses of renters and say whether rentals are for a whole apartment or just a room — disclosures that would help the city enforce the law making it illegal for most landlords to rent an apartment for fewer than 30 days.

The decision is “a huge win” for Airbnb and its users, “including the thousands of New Yorkers at risk of illegal surveillance who use Airbnb to help make ends meet,” company spokeswoman Liz DeBold Fusco said in an emailed statement. “The court today recognized the fundamental importance of New Yorkers’ constitutional rights to privacy and the sanctity of their own homes.”

More on the New York City law here

Airbnb is facing resistance from regulators in Amsterdam, Santa Monica, California, and Reykjavik, Iceland, among other popular tourist destinations. The New York City law could give Airbnb-skeptical regulators around the world a straightforward playbook to copy as they seek to limit the company’s influence.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said New York City would ultimately prevail in the case.

“We think it’s a good law,” he said during a news conference on an unrelated matter Thursday. “This is a law to stop landlords from creating de facto hotels, which is unfair and illegal, which creates real security problems for neighbors.”

Engelmayer said the ordinance is probably unconstitutional because it lacks a way for the companies to challenge a monthly requirement that they turn over user records.

“The ordinance does not provide for a neutral forum before which a booking service could argue, before a monthly production deadline, that the demand for user data was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment,” he wrote in a 52-page decision.

Engelmayer ordered the parties to go forward with pretrial evidence gathering and set a May 10 conference in the case.

The case is Airbnb Inc. v. City of New York, 18-cv-7712, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).