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ICYMI- Attorney General’s NYC Battle with Airbnb Targets Widowed Grandma

New York Post
Attorney general’s NYC battle with Airbnb targets widowed grandma
Posted 11/13/13 @ 02:06

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to a Manhattan granny: Gimme all your records.

Airbnb, the Web service that pairs vacationers and homes with rooms to rent, amped up its battle Tuesday against Schneiderman’s effort to have it hand over hosts’ financial records — a Manhattan widow who rents out rooms because she had grown lonely after her husband died.

A video of “Judith” is one of several sentimental examples unveiled Tuesday on Airbnb’s website.  The message was clear: By going after Airbnb’s hosts, Schneiderman is going after everyday folks like “Judith.”  

On Oct. 4, Schneiderman subpoenaed Airbnb, seeking data on as many as 225,000 New Yorkers who have rented out rooms through Airbnb since 2010.  Airbnb has asked an Albany state judge to quash the subpoena, saying it’s part of a fishing expedition.  At issue is a 2010 state law forbidding people from renting their homes for under 30 days unless the owner is also present.

Schneiderman is also worried that some Airbnb hosts are avoiding a 14.75 percent state occupancy tax, his office has said.  Airbnb’s new video series was not made in response to the AG’s subpoena, according to a company official.

But Tama Richardson, an artist from Hamilton Heights and a featured Airbnb host, told The Post that Schneiderman’s crackdown was one the reasons she agreed be profiled.  “I can’t help but feel that it’s short-sighted on the side of the [state] because we function like ambassadors for our neighborhoods and bring money into our neighborhoods,” Richardson told The Post. “They’re stepping over dimes to pick up nickels,” she said of the probe.

Richardson, in a video posted on Airbnb’s website, credits the San Francisco company with helping her avoid bankruptcy after the financial crisis, and for helping her pay for costly medication.  She said she’s always present when she rents out a room.  The AG’s office said it is not out to put a fright into any grandmas — or other average New Yorker.

Schneiderman’s subpoena targets Airbnb’s “illegal, highly lucrative hotel operators who make up a huge chunk of Airbnb’s corporate profit — not the [person] who rents out their apartment from time to time,” AG spokeswoman Melissa Grace told The Post.  But Airbnb has argued in court papers that it doesn’t have any way of knowing which hosts were present when renting.  The videos are just the latest counterattack in an increasingly heated battle that has also rallied the larger Internet community.

On Monday, two groups focused on Internet freedoms, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy & Technology, filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Airbnb.

Last week, nonprofit trade group The Internet Association, which represents tech giants like Facebook, Yahoo!, Netflix and Amazon, also came to Airbnb’s defense.

“Complying with this subpoena would impose an enormous cost and burden on Airbnb. And it would permit the government to intrude without justification on the privacy of Airbnb’s users,” The Internet Association argued.