Airbnb Sues New York City

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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AirBnBAirbnb sued the City of New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Mayor Bill de Blasio over a new law that imposes steep fines on those who break local housing regulations. The bill was passed in June and signed into law by the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on October 21, 2016.

The New Law

New York housing law restricts short-term rentals for certain housing. Since 2010, it has been illegal in New York to rent out a whole apartment for fewer than 30 days. But some have ignored those rules and have been using Airbnb to rent out their apartments for much shorter periods. Housing advocates in the city argue that many of the units that are listed on Airbnb are illegal. 

This new law allows authorities to fine hosts up to $7,500 if they are caught listing a property illegally on a rental site such as Airbnb.

The bill was sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, a Democrat from Manhattan who has said, “New York is taking a bold step that will hopefully set a standard for the rest of the country and other countries in the world that are struggling with the impact of Airbnb on affordable housing.”

A spokesperson for Governor Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, has stated, “this is an issue that was given careful, deliberate consideration, but ultimately these activities are already expressly prohibited by law.”

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

Advocates for affordable housing and regulators are concerned that Airbnb makes it easier to illegally rent out apartment units for short-terms to travelers, which takes units off the market for full-time residents. This could drive housing costs up.

The Lawsuit

Airbnb filed their suit in United States District Court in the Southern District of New York. The company argues that the law violates its constitutional rights to free speech and due process. Airbnb also argues that this law violates the Communications Decency Act, which protects internet companies from liability for content that is posted by their users. 

Airbnb claims that applying this law to it “would hold Airbnb liable for the content of rental listings created and posted by third-parties on Airbnb’s platform. As such, the Act unquestionably treats platforms such as Airbnb as the publisher or speaker of third-party content and is completely preempted by the CDA.”

Airbnb argues that this law “would impose significant immediate burdens and irreparable harm on Airbnb. … In order to be assured of avoiding liability, including potential criminal prosecution, Airbnb would be required to screen and review every listing a host seeks to publish.”

However, one of the lawmakers responsible for this law, New York State Senator Liz Krueger, has commented that the lawmakers had the Communications Decency Act in mind when they drafted the bill and that it only holds the host liable for advertising illegal listings.

Airbnb’s Other Lawsuits

Airbnb has filed similar laws against the cities of San Francisco and Santa Monica, each which have attempted to fine Airbnb for illegal listings. Additionally, AirBnB is being sued for discrimination.

Airbnb is also fighting legal battles internationally in Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Berlin.

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