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Airbnb takes on Boston in its latest legal tussle over short-term rental laws

Airbnb takes on Boston in its latest legal tussle over short-term rental laws
[Photo: Mohit Singh/Unsplash]

Boston just became the latest city to be sued by Airbnb over legislation that forces the home-sharing platform to remove illegal listings or face fines.

In addition to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Airbnb is seeking an injunction to pause new short-term rental laws that are supposed to take effect in January. The city ordinance says hosts must register with the city and requires Airbnb to take down listings that don’t comply with the law.

Airbnb says its job is not to enforce the law, and therefore it shouldn’t be required to remove problematic listings. This argument hinges on Airbnb’s position that it is a neutral platform that merely markets third-party properties. Additionally, Airbnb argues that the Boston law, which penalizes Airbnb with a $300 fine per day for every noncompliant home on its site, puts “severe financial burdens on protected commercial speech.”

In the past, Airbnb has filed suits against Miami, San Francisco, New York, Santa Monica, and Anaheim, California.

When it settled its lawsuit with San Francisco in May 2017, the company agreed to hand over data about its users to help the city enforce laws, according to the New York Times. It also agreed to pull listings that the city flags as noncompliant. However, San Francisco reserved the option to fine Airbnb in the event that the platform does not play ball. In the end, Airbnb lost roughly half of its listings in that city.

While such legal fights may seem self-defeatist for the platform, these suits can actually allow Airbnb to refine control of local laws in marketplaces where it operates.

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