By Michael Virtanen
Most New York City rentals listed by the global website Airbnb appear to violate state law, according to the New York attorney general who's trying to subpoena information about nearly 16,000 so-called "hosts" renting apartments.
Some of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's staff headed to state court Tuesday trying to get the host names, addresses, rental rates, lengths of stay and tax data they first requested last fall.
Airbnb has asked Justice Gerald Connolly to block the investigative subpoena, arguing state law is unconstitutionally vague and Schneiderman's office is seeking private, confidential information. Connolly scheduled oral arguments Tuesday afternoon.
The company said Tuesday it will be fighting the demand for personal information "about thousands of regular New Yorkers who occasionally share their home with travelers." It identified by first names a few hosts with compelling stories, like chronically ill Kimberly from the Lower East Side who says rentals have enabled her husband and her to keep their home and continue medical treatment. The law prohibits owners or renters of apartments in multi-unit buildings from renting them for less than 30 days unless they remain present. The law permits having boarders or renting rooms.
In a court affidavit, a researcher for the attorney general said Airbnb listed 19,522 city rentals Jan. 31, nearly all for less than 30 days and 64 percent for the entire apartment, indicating the host would be absent.
Authorities say the goal is to prevent a host of short-term strangers and transients from renting city apartments meant for permanent residents and from unfairly competing with hotels. In court papers, Assistant Attorney General Clark Russell said police have received "numerous complaints" about illegal rentals, which has been confirmed by the attorney general's investigation.
Amendments to the state law enacted in 2010 were meant to clarify the law and help authorities crack down on illegal hotels.
In New York, Airbnb says about 15,000 people are offering short-term rentals ranging from $35 for a private space in a Brooklyn studio to a $60 walkup in Times Square to $120 for a garden apartment in Brooklyn's Red Hook to $921 for an antiques-furnished loft in Tribeca.
State Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsored that measure, said Tuesday that every apartment converted into an illegal hotel room increases the city's housing shortage and raises prices for permanent residents. Her spokesman, Andrew Goldston, said they think "the larger proportion" of these short-term rentals is made of people renting space in apartments they don’t actually live in.
Charisma L. Miller, Esq, contributing