In the wake of Airbnb's admission that it purged 1,500 bad actors from its website before releasing anonymized listing data to New York City, the city has requested that the company turn over the specific names and addresses of hosts who are potentially violating the law.
In New York City, renting an entire home for shorter than 30 days is illegal, which effectively outlaws about 20,000 of Airbnb's NYC listings.
Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen wrote in a recent letter to Chris Lehane, Airbnb's director of global policy and public affairs:
"Your confirmation of this purge shows an ability and willingness by Airbnb not only to identify hosts who violate multiple City and State laws, but also to drop these bad actors from your platform. You have previously indicated to us that these actions were not feasible or even possible given e- commerce and privacy laws, and also generally against your company policies."
"We request that you continue to proactively engage in this process, and make efforts to prevent purged hosts from returning. Additionally, we ask that you provide us with data on these individuals and any others who may be violating our laws and putting the public at risk of unsafe conditions so that we may pursue action against them. Lastly, we would like your commitment to remove hosts and listings that the City identifies to your company as offering or having provided short term rentals that violate the law."
When Airbnb released data on its NYC listings in December, city council members expressed concern that the disclosure was not thorough or specific enough to be useful. In her recent letter, Glen requested additional data from Airbnb, including names, addresses, email addresses, and tax-related documents for all hosts with two or more listings who are offering stays in New York City for fewer than 30 days as well as host identity and booking information for all bookings of entire homes for fewer than 30 days, and for all bookings that overlap in time with each other and create a total of three or more guests at a time.
Airbnb has provided the city council with updated data on New York City listings, similar to the data it released in December, but a city spokesperson called that data "incomplete," adding: "We are requesting specific, useful data on those bad actors that are abusing the model to operate de-facto illegal hotels with multiple units and multiple bookings on the site, thereby breaking the law."
The spokesperson emphasized that Glen also has plans to send a similar letter to other home-renting companies, such as HomeAway and VRBO.
In his response to Glen’s letter, Lehane suggested that Airbnb had explained its plans to delete bad actors from its site in a "community compact" the company published in November, the month before it handed over listings data to the city. In that document, Airbnb promised that in places where housing affordability was a problem, it would "work with our community to prevent short-term rentals from impacting the availability of long-term rental housing by ensuring hosts agree to a policy of listing only permanent homes on a short-term basis," but did not specifically discuss how it would identify and delete listings posted by illegal hotels. In a February blog post, Airbnb said that to identify bad actors it considers the number of listings controlled by a host, the quality of the listing, and the number of nights a listing is shared.
Airbnb has resisted providing cities with information about hosts who violate the renting regulations on its platform, citing user privacy. "Our community has demonstrated that it can self-regulate," the company wrote in a November blog post.
In his letter, Lehane pointed out that Airbnb supports legislation that would allow New Yorkers to share only their permanent home and is "eager" to work with the city and state to remit taxes from hosts. "We agree that those who are engaging in unwelcome commercial activity are not operating in the best interest of New York City," he wrote.