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NYC Wants 20K Airbnb Records Because 'People Want to Know What the Hell Is Going on'

This Aug. 21, 2018, photo shows the master bedroom of Lily Lazarus' home that she rents out through Airbnb in Houston near Bellaire. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle via AP)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio defended his city’s subpoena to gain access to information on 20,000 records from home-sharing giant Airbnb, arguing that consistently listed rental properties could amount to “illegal hotels” that hurt affordable housing.

The company was previously sued by San Francisco and reached a settlement under which hosts would have to register before listing a rental property on the website. That registration data is turned over to the city, which looks into the short-term rental to ensure that the hosts actually live there.

In November, a couple was fined $2.25 million in San Francisco Superior Court for putting up 14 apartments on Airbnb while taking lengthy steps including drafting fake leases to make it look like a host lived at the property.

Chris Lehane, the head of global policy for Airbnb, told de Blasio in a letter today that an arrangement like the one forged with San Francisco could be worked out.

“At the end of the day, we know that home sharing is here to stay in the Empire State, which boasted a record year of tourism in 2018—one that included more than 3.3 million inbound Airbnb guests, not to mention the 4.4 million New Yorkers who used Airbnb to travel, ” Lehane wrote. “We hope you’ll work with us to find a path that allows them to keep their doors open while closing the doors of illegal hotel operators.”

Lehane stressed that “no matter how long it takes, we will continue standing up for our existing and future hosts — because establishing progressive and enforceable rules, as so many other cities have done, is important to our community.”

On Monday’s Inside City Hall show, de Blasio said NYC “tried very hard to work with Airbnb” but “ultimately did not get the kind of transparency the people of New York City deserved.”

“We want to see their listings. We want to see which apartments are being rented out. We want to know what’s really going on. We want to make sure there’s not illegal hotels. We want to make sure it’s something that is supposed to be an occasional business, it’s not a full-time business which would mean it should be listed as a business. It should be regulated as a business. If your apartment was rented out every single day, it’s not your apartment anymore. It’s a business,” he said.

“We said, look, to Airbnb and to the others, people are worried about the loss of housing, the loss of affordable housing. They’re worried about security. You got all sorts of strangers in your building. People want to know what the hell is going on. Be transparent and we can start to make progress.”

De Blasio asked if Airbnb has “got nothing to hide why are you not coming forward with the information.”

“They’ve said that they want to have a cooperative arrangement but how can you regulate, how can you have a common language if they won’t even divulge what they’re doing?” he said.

De Blasio was asked if the Airbnb clients would find the city’s actions intrusive into their privacy.

“If you rent in New York City you have a sense that your fellow apartment dwellers are in it together with you, everyone theoretically cares about the building. If you rent in New York City, you have a sense that your fellow apartment dwellers are in it together with you – everyone theoretically cares about the building and safety and all. If a bunch of tourists are coming – one day, one person, one day a next – it doesn’t have the same feeling,” the mayor said. “We need some rules to give comfort to everyday New Yorkers. But we’re not trying to go after the little guy who is just trying to make a few dollars.”