NY Attorney General tells Pando: Current hotel laws were made with Airbnb in mind

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on April 24, 2014

From The News Desk

There's a tech storm a-brewin' in New York.

Earlier this week, the New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman submitted an affidavit claiming that, according to an unofficial count, two-thirds of New York City's Airbnb listings are illegal. This was meant to bolster his subpoena for Airbnb's records. Airbnb's response maintained that Scheiderman's request is out of line and that he is, in effect, bullying the company.

At the same time, given the compounding threats by the state, Airbnb subsequently removed numerous egregiously illegal accounts.

Now Schneiderman is making the press rounds to to support his stance while maintaining that he is actually sympathetic to New York's tech sector. Today, the Albany official made an appearance at New York Tech Day -- a New York-centric startup event showcasing nearly 500 hundred startups -- to present an award for "Best Green Startup" to the company EnergyHub. Metal trophy in hand, the man presented the accolade and remarked to the crowd his support for the tech sector

Of course that probably wasn't what was on everyone's mind: Airbnb is. Following his brief remarks, while he began peruse the numerous startup booths, Pando asked him his stance about San Francisco's Board of Supervisor's current legislative attempt to make the platform more legal.

The Attorney General didn't seem too enthusiastic about the prospect, saying the San Francisco attorney just went into court yesterday to enforce existing laws. "I'm not sure he would view [these attempts] as them working with him."

Schneiderman explained that current attempts to change the occupancy law are inevitable, yet out of his hands. "The law always have to be adjusted to accommodate new technology," he said. "But right now we have existing laws."

Further, his request for data isn't out of left field, he says; it's to ensure that tenants and tourists are protected. Nor does he see New York's occupancy law as archaic; it was passed in 2010. "[The law] was passed when Airbnb was in business, with them in mind," he stated mildly.

He furthered this claim earlier today when he told press at a Crain's New York business breakfast that he's confident "more than 50%" of the company's revenue comes from illegal hotels.

Airbnb wouldn't agree. It has continually reiterated its belief that it is boosting New York's economy, and that the laws, as they currently stand, are unfair toward the type of commerce it creates.

The only resolution to come, it seems, will be handed down by a judge. Either Airbnb will have to fork over the data, potentially damaging its New York business, or the current occupancy law will be deemed unfair for businesses like Airbnb. Schneiderman remains steadfast in his pursuit to hold the company accountable, using the law as his backdrop.

As he put it, "I'm just enforcing it until they change the law."

[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]