Airbnb just beat New York in court, but the state isn’t giving up yet

A judge has quashed a controversial subpoena in the ongoing battle between Airbnb and the New York attorney general's office over whether the five-year-old company is operating illegal hotels (and violating state law). But Airbnb shouldn't celebrate just yet: The AG's office says it's already in the process of filing another subpoena for Airbnb's records.

Last year, Albany demanded that Airbnb hand over information on its hosts, including names, addresses and non-personal information such as how long a guest may have stayed in a host's apartment. In New York's view, Airbnb runs afoul of the Multiple Dwelling Law, which prohibits people from subletting their apartments for less than 30 days without the resident actually being there. The original subpoena requested data on "all hosts that rent accommodations in New York state."

That's not specific enough for Judge Gerald Connolly, who ruled Tuesday that "a plain reading of the subpoena in light of Multiple Dwelling Law §4 ... seeks materials that are irrelevant to the inquiry at hand and accordingly, must be quashed."

The decision has Airbnb pretty excited. The company said Tuesday that it was "good news for New Yorkers who simply want to share their home and the city they love." It's pledging to work with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman "to make New York stronger for everyone."

But Schneiderman's office apparently has other ideas. Based on the judge's objection to the subpoena on a technicality — that the legal demand was simply too broad — the New York AG intends to reissue its subpoena this week in a way that doesn't offend the court. In the rest of his decision, Judge Connolly sided with the government repeatedly, saying he suspected that Airbnb hosts are indeed breaking the law and that the company failed to argue convincingly why the subpoena should be thrown out once and for all.

This is likely to put Airbnb back at square one, having to defend itself against a state government that's skeptical of the company's business model.

"Our office is committed to enforcing a law that provides vital protections for building residents and tourists alike," said Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for Schneiderman. "The judge rejected all of Airbnb’s arguments except for a narrow technical issue, and we will reissue the subpoena to address it."

The full decision is embedded below.

 

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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