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Airbnb and NYC may settle lawsuit over short-term rental ads

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Airbnb upholds that the ads should be protected as free speech

Last month’s watershed ruling allowing for fines up to $7,500 for Airbnb users who advertise illegal short-term rentals continues to see pushback from the room share site. The Wall Street Journal reports that Airbnb is in talks with the City of New York and the Attorney General to settle a lawsuit they lobbed over the new law, which seeks to cut down on whole-apartment shares in multi-unit buildings that are advertised for stays of less than 30 days. Sources familiar with the potential settlement say that it would protect Airbnb itself from fines, though hosts on the site would still be subject to them.

Airbnb’s lawsuit upholds that the language of the law signed by Governor Cuomo in late October is ambiguous about who the fines pertain to, leaving room for the website itself to incur fines. Assemblywoman Lina Rosenthal who co-sponsored the bill says that “the law fines the hosts and does not fine Airbnb.”

Gothamist notes that Airbnb’s suit says that the fines would violate the federal Communications Decency Act, which acts to protect websites from legal accountability for third-party content published on their sites. Airbnb’s lawsuit also states that the advertisements for short-term rentals are protected under the First Amendment as free speech.

Enforcement of the new law now falls to the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement. A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office has said that they’re “taking the steps necessary to enable us to enforce the State law.”

According to a statement from the AG’s office, the focus of the law will be on operators of illegal hotels, or landlords who use apartment buildings as Airbnb hubs effectively pulling apartments out of the residence pool, and not the folks who are looking to earn a buck by listing their apartments when they’re out of town.