Airbnb sues New York City over privacy concerns

Airbnb is fighting back against New York’s latest crackdown.

Airbnb sues New York City over privacy concerns
[Photo: Denys Nevozhai/Unsplash]

Airbnb has filed a lawsuit against the city of New York over a recent law the city passed, requiring the home-sharing site to hand over information about its hosts.


The law is designed to monitor landlords who are using long-term apartments for short-term rentals, commonly called “illegal hotels.” In its suit, filed in the state’s southern district court, Airbnb says the new law is an “extraordinary act of government overreach.” It accuses the city of violating the Stored Communications Act, which prevents companies like Airbnb from disclosing user data without consent or legal justification, as well as the First and Fourth Amendments.

The city ordinance, which passed on July 18, asks for a monthly report, including the following, on each host:

  • Name, address, telephone number, and email
  • The address of the short-term rental including unit number, borough, and zip code
  • Airbnb URL of the rental property and other related account identifiers
  • Whether the host occupies the home for rent or if it’s a whole-home rental
  • Number of days the home has been rented
  • How much Airbnb received for the rental
  • How much the host makes
  • Information pertaining to the account through which the host receives money from a home-sharing service.

In its lawsuit, Airbnb notes that the law provides no clarity around if or how this information will be secured. “Nothing in the Ordinance prevents the Office of Special Enforcement from sharing the data with other agencies or turning the data over to any member of the public—including individuals associated with the hotel lobby—who files a request under the Freedom of Information Law,” the lawsuit reads. Airbnb sued the the city of New York in 2016 after the state passed a law that heavily penalized illegal home sharing. The company settled with the city two months later.

New York is not the only city in the United States to ask for information about home-sharing hosts. However, in cities with similar legislation, like San Francisco, Chicago, and Seattle, the hosts themselves are required to register with the city and submit their own data. New York is requiring Airbnb to obtain consent and submit data on behalf of hosts.

Airbnb seems to forever be locked in battle with cities over how home sharing should be regulated. That’s in part because going to court is really the company’s only recourse in taking on city legislation. Airbnb also has plenty of resources. The company closed a $1 billion funding round last year and reportedly turned a profit this year. These lawsuits also generate publicity and can help shape public opinion.

Fast Company reached out to the Office of Special Enforcement for comment and will update this story.

About the author

Ruth Reader is a writer for Fast Company. She covers the intersection of health and technology.