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Airbnb agrees to give host data to New York City in settlement

The short-term rental company has long fought against disclosing its host data to the city, leaving officials to weed out illegal listings on their own.

New York

AIRBNB has settled a major lawsuit against New York City and agreed to hand over personal data on its hosts, helping officials track down those who rent their homes in violation of city regulations.

The agreement could cost Airbnb tens of thousands of listings in the Big Apple, but it also gets the home-share startup closer to its ultimate goal - clarifying its legal status in one of the San Francisco-based company's biggest domestic markets.

"We hope that our willingness to be transparent enables the State and the City to feel reassured that short-term rentals can be effectively regulated without blunt prohibitions," Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk said in a message to hosts.

"Now, more than ever, regular New Yorkers should have the ability to occasionally share their home, activity that we believe should not be confused with illegal hotels," he added.

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New York City officials have estimated that as many as 35,000 of Airbnb's current listings break local laws that ban entire apartments from being rented for fewer than 30 days without a tenant present.

Legal short-term rentals are limited to one- and two-family homes and spare bedrooms in the city.

The company has long fought against disclosing its host data to the city, leaving officials to weed out illegal listings through old-fashioned detective work like analysing photos online.

In July 2018, the city passed a law that would force vacation-rental companies to share data about their hosts on a monthly basis, making it easier for the city to spot and fine violators.

Airbnb and Expedia Group's HomeAway sued the city a month later, claiming the new ordinance violated privacy laws.

Judge Paul Engelmayer issued a preliminary injunction banning the ordinance from taking effect until the case was resolved.

Coming to terms in private settlement talks, Airbnb agreed to share information with the city on a quarterly basis, rather than monthly.

The company will hand over the physical address of the listing, plus the host's name, address, phone number and email, along with data on whether or not the listing is for an entire unit or part of a unit, the total number of days booked and amount of money received by the host.

Airbnb will be required to hand over data that applies only to hosts who rent out their entire homes for five or more nights a quarter.

"With this agreement, the city will have a powerful tool to detect those who hide behind fake accounts and address those who take housing away from New Yorkers," said Christian Klossner, executive director of the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement, which is tasked with policing short-term rentals.

"We will be able to better protect our communities and visitors, and more fully understand the impacts of the illegal short-term rental market," he added.

Airbnb's dispute with New York was long seen as an obstacle to a successful public offering.

The company had originally planned to list shares this year, though the global travel market rut brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic has called that timeline into question.

However, Airbnb chief executive officer Brian Chesky said last week that given the recent surge in demand for vacation rentals, a 2020 public listing has not been ruled out. BLOOMBERG

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