Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Airbnb Host Cleared in New York After Company Helps Appeal

Airbnb has helped win a legal victory in its appeal on behalf of one of its hosts, who had been fined $2,400 for hosting visitors he contracted with on the site.

airbnb_featureThe case presented a significant risk for the company, as the finding had been widely portrayed as declaring what the company does to be illegal in New York City (though that wasn’t exactly the case).

But still, it was a big deal, especially given Airbnb’s heft in the emerging sharing economy; the company has more than 500,000 listings and said it has hosted 8.5 million guests over the past five years.

The New York City Environmental Control Board cleared host Nigel Warren yesterday, saying that the presence of his roommate in the apartment during his Airbnb guests’ stay made the visit legal.

Airbnb public policy head David Hantman wrote in a blog post today, “In the appeal, we and Nigel argued — and the appeal board now agrees — that under New York law as long as a permanent occupant is present during a stay, the stay does not violate New York’s short term rental laws.”

Still, that narrow explanation doesn’t cover all of Airbnb’s hosts in New York.

Hantman said Airbnb will keep trying to get legal clarity for its business in New York. “Much of the New York law is confusing, with some provisions applying to certain buildings and not to others. But this shared space provision was crystal clear. We intervened in this case because the initial decision on Nigel’s case was so clearly wrong, and we are pleased to see that the board agreed.”

As I wrote previously, this particular case was an interesting one to make a big deal of:

While some kinds of Airbnb stays are much more controversial — for instance, someone who rents an apartment but doesn’t live there and posts the entire thing on Airbnb for rentals, without the landlord’s knowledge or approval — the host in question, Nigel Warren, was pretty much exemplary by Airbnb’s standards.

According to Warren’s testimony, he rented out his bedroom while he was out of town, he had only hosted on Airbnb three times, and his roommate continued to occupy the apartment while the guests visited (though the judge said he would have been happier if the roommate and the guests interacted, and if the guests visited the roommate’s bedroom as well, which seems like an odd quibble).

The ruling applies to the part of Airbnb’s business that the company saw as entirely unimpeachable. And even if the company can get it reversed, it will surely have a chilling effect on potential hosts who don’t want to be taken to court and fined.

Here’s the ruling:

Airbnb New York


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik