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New York City subpoenas Airbnb, HomeAway for host data

  • Feb 21, 2019 | Jennifer Sokolowsky

New York City

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that the city is issuing a subpoena to Airbnb and HomeAway to force the short-term rental platforms to turn over data for approximately 20,000 listings.

The city wants the data in order to see which vacation rental hosts might be breaking the law. Under the New York State multiple dwelling law, short-term rentals are generally only allowed if the primary tenant lives in the apartment while guests are staying there. Short-term rental hosts are also required to collect lodging taxes from guests.

 “If your apartment was rented out every single day, it’s not your apartment anymore. It’s a business,” de Blasio told the NY1 television news channel.

“This goes under the category: If you got nothing to hide why are you not coming forward with the information? If Airbnb believes that all of the people it’s working with are doing things right, then why not be transparent?” he said.

In a letter to the mayor, Airbnb responded that it supports “comprehensive and effective regulations that provide those key protections for New York City hosts and outline clear rules for safety, tax collection, and enforcement against those who would seek to take advantage of our platform to operate illegal hotels.” The company also cited its One Host, One Home program that aims to prevent New York City hosts from listing multiple properties.

The city is turning to a subpoena to get the data after a federal judge blocked part of a new New York City law requiring short-term rental platforms to disclose listing information, including the name, address, phone number, email, and profile URL of active hosts, as well as the total number of days the property was rented, fees that were paid, and whether hosts are renting out a whole home or just part of one.

Short-term rental sites Airbnb and HomeAway sued New York City after the law was passed, claiming the requirement to release host data to the city violates privacy. The judge issued a preliminary injunction against the data-disclosure requirement while the lawsuit is being decided.

In that decision, the judge wrote that New York City had other tools at its disposal, such as subpoenas, to get information.

“It can use these tools to safeguard its interests while this litigation is pending,” the court filing on the case says.

The data the city is demanding from Airbnb and HomeAway could also help tax authorities find out which hosts are collecting the required taxes on their vacation rentals.

Short-term rentals in New York City are subject to a New York City Hotel Room Occupancy Tax, which is collected by the city, while New York State collects state sales tax, New York city sales tax, and a Hotel Unit Fee of $1.50 per day on short-term rentals.

Since Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, and other vacation rental platforms don’t collect taxes on behalf of their hosts in New York City, hosts are responsible for registering with tax authorities, collecting lodging taxes from guests, and filing lodging tax returns. MyLodgeTax can help New York City vacation rental hosts take care of all their lodging tax obligations, from registration to filing.

In a similar case in Hawaii, a federal judge recently blocked the state from issuing a subpoena to Airbnb for the names, addresses, and financial records for 16,000 short-term rental hosts in order to find out which hosts are paying lodging taxes.

Hawaii First Circuit Court Judge James Ashford said the state failed to prove that a substantial number of Airbnb hosts are disobeying tax laws. The Hawaii Department of Taxation plans to appeal the ruling.

For more on short-term rental tax requirements in New York State, see our New York Vacation Rental Tax Guide.

Lodging tax rates, rules, and regulations change frequently. Although we hope you'll find this information helpful, this blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal or tax advice.
Avalara Author
Jennifer Sokolowsky
Avalara Author Jennifer Sokolowsky
Jennifer Sokolowsky writes about tax, legal, and tech topics. She has an extensive international background in journalism and marketing, including work with The Seattle Times, The Prague Post, Avvo, and Marriott.