Airbnb and three hosts have filed a pair of lawsuits in the state Supreme Court in Manhattan, claiming that the company faces an existential threat in New York City. The lawsuits are in response to new regulations that require short-term rental properties to be registered with the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement. According to Airbnb, these rules will effectively “all but eliminate” the market for home-based vacation stays in the city.
The registration requirement, known as Local Law 18, was passed by the City Council last year and applies to individuals planning to rent out their properties in the city for less than 30 days. The new rules were finalized earlier this year and came into effect in March, with enforcement scheduled to begin in July.
Airbnb argues that the new rules are excessively burdensome and complex. Hosts are required to obtain a unique identification account with the city, provide proof of identity and contact information, and address any existing building violations on their properties, among other requirements. Additionally, the regulations will force Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms to cross-reference registrations with the listings on their sites, which, according to Airbnb, can be easily hindered by typos or abbreviations.
The company believes that these regulations not only pose challenges for hosts but also for the platform itself. Airbnb claims that the cross-referencing process could be significantly impacted by minor errors, potentially leading to non-compliance with the new rules.
By filing these lawsuits, Airbnb and the hosts seek to challenge the legality and implementation of the new registration rules, aiming to protect their ability to continue operating in the short-term rental market in New York City.
“It is literally impossible for regular people to comply with the rules,” said Airbnb’s attorney Karen Dunn at a press conference on Thursday. “These are regulations that experts will tell you no regular person could understand unless they had a history of working in building code engineering.”
According to Airbnb’s complaint, the city had approved a mere nine host registrations as of the beginning of May, which is less than two months before the enforcement deadline. This information was provided to Airbnb by the city and is cited as evidence in the company’s complaint.
“That is a de facto ban on short-term rentals in New York, and that’s what the city is trying to bring about with these new rules,” Dunn said. “Airbnb will have to cancel thousands of reservations over the summer, impacting hosts and thousands of tourists planning to come to New York City. And so the city of New York is poised to be the Grinch who stole summer.”
The complaint also contends that in implementing the rule, the city ignored feedback from hosts and disregarded its unintended consequences — such as discouraging hosts from offering legal short-term rentals.
Airbnb has requested that the court stop the new rules from taking effect before enforcement begins next month.
The city has about 12,000 Airbnb listings that are booked for short stays on a regular basis. More than 60% of those are full homes or apartments, many of which will be barred from registering under the new rules. While these short-term rentals are common practice, they are already illegal under New York state’s multiple dwelling law, which only allows hosts to rent out their own homes while they are present.
Jonah Allon, a City Hall spokesperson, said the registration rules are city law and that the city has worked hard to get hosts and short-term rental companies up to speed. Furthermore, he added, the multiple dwelling law is old news.
“The rules governing short-term rentals, codified in both city and state law, have been clear for years,” he said in a written statement.
In a separate lawsuit, three Airbnb hosts claim that some of the personal information that’s required to register their properties — including the number of people living in their homes who are unrelated to them — amounts to a “warrantless administrative search of their private personal information,” which they suggest is prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.
One of the hosts named in the complaint, Rupi Arora, said she rents out part of her Forest Hills home to supplement her Social Security and pay for home repairs. She and the other hosts called on the city to make a distinction between illegal hotel operators and small hosts renting out parts of their homes.
“If Airbnb is stopped by the city, I will lose this revenue. I might have to go to the city to ask for money to help me pay my bills,” Arora said. “I’m not selling my house to move out. Where would I go? Which city would I go to? I came to this city and this is where I’m going to live till I die.”
Gia Briscoe, a musician, said that Airbnb has helped her and her husband stay afloat and hang on to their Brooklyn Heights brownstone, which has been in her family for generations.
“We were in support of some regulations,” she said. “All we asked was that they are fair and allow people like us to continue sharing our own home where we live.”
Tom Cayler, a supporter of Local Law 18 and chair of the illegal hotel’s committee at the West Side Neighborhood Alliance, said he was skeptical that the suits would stand up in court.
“This is the best [Airbnb’s] crack legal team could come up with?” he asked in an email to Gothamist.