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Hospitality Website Airbnb Steps Aside In Battle Between Authorities and Users

By: Katherine Clarke

September 5th, 2014

Airbnb has decided not to rat out its own customers to the Attorney General’s office for allegedly leasing their apartments illegally to tourists via the internet hospitality website.

The website, which was sued by a group of users earlier this week to block it from giving their names and addresses to authorities, says state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the property owners should hash out the dispute between them – and leave Airbnb out of it.

The fight between the three parties stems from a deal that Airbnb allegedly struck with the Attorney General to provide names, addresses and taxpayer identification numbers of owners that have leased their apartments to tourists for less than the legal minimum of 30 days.

Schneiderman is investigating hundreds of these owners for allegedly breaking housing laws and costing the city millions in hotel occupancy tax revenue. But the owners say Airbnb would break the law too, by releasing their private information.

Operators of the website filed their own complaint Friday, demanding that a judge clear Airbnb of any potential liability in the lawsuit and force the Attorney General and the owners, who call themselves New Yorkers Making Ends Meet in the Sharing Economy, to lock horns directly.

“This is a small victory for us,” said Adam Leitman Bailey, the attorney representing the owners, who are not identified in the lawsuit except as John and Jane Does. “Now, we’re hoping that the Attorney General has more important things to do than go up against the middle class.”

The website will not release any of the information requested by the Attorney General until ordered to do so by a judge, it said.

“We filed papers to make clear that we will wait for the court to resolve this,” said Airbnb spokesperson Nick Papas in a statement.

Schneiderman’s investigation is primarily focused on 124 so-called hosts, who have allegedly made a collective $60 million by illegally renting out their homes. On average, each made about $500,000.

The website had already provided anonymous data on 16,000 of its New York users to authorities before the Attorney General requested more detailed information on the 124. When Airbnb informed the users of the request for information, a group of them filed suit to stop the information’s release.

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