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Airbnb Admits Removing 1,500 Listings Before Sharing Data With Regulators

By Amy Zimmer | February 24, 2016 4:18pm
 Airbnb admitted it removed 1,500 NYC listings before releasing data about hosts to state regulators.
Airbnb admitted it removed 1,500 NYC listings before releasing data about hosts to state regulators.
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MANHATTAN — Airbnb admitted in a letter to Albany lawmakers Wednesday that it removed 1,500 New York City listings that were controlled by commercial operators from its platform in November.

“Moving forward,” the letter said, “our policy will be to build… on the commitment to being a solution to affordability issues in New York City by continuing to remove listings from our platform that appear to be controlled by commercial operators and do not reflect Airbnb’s vision for our community.”

The letter comes after watchdogs uncovered that Airbnb had quietly purged these listings before the company released data for New York City to state regulators, which clamed that 95 percent of hosts shared just one listing and that the typical listing earned about $5,110 a year.

The company on Wednesday said the November removal affected roughly 622 hosts, including 375 who had two or more listings taken off the platform.

In updated figures for February, Airbnb contends that 94 percent of hosts have one listing and that the typical listing earned about $5,330 a year.

Airbnb has come under fire from politicians since hosts sometimes flout the city’s housing laws, and many landlords have been on guard against Airbnb in New York City, where it is illegal to rent out an apartment for fewer than 30 days, unless the host is present.

And laws on rent regulated housing restrict subleasing, the amounts you can sublease and require advance notice from landlords, the platform’s site points out.

Airbnb foes have blamed the company for hurting the city’s affordable housing stock by illegally renting out units to high-paying tourists rather than full-time residents. But the company said it was founded in 2008 to help with affordability by giving people extra income to help cover their housing costs.

“As we move forward,” Airbnb wrote to lawmakers, “we remain eager to work with you on clear, fair rules for home sharing in New York that will help New Yorkers use what is typically their greatest expense — their housing — as a way to generate supplemental income.”

The company also said it has made clear to Albany that it wants to collect and remit hotel and tourist taxes in the city and state “on behalf of the community.” It estimated that such taxes would contributing $60 million a year if the state granted Airbnb the authority to collect these taxes as it does in two dozen other cities, including Santa Monica, Washington, D.C. and Jersey City.

But many weren’t taking Airbnb’s olive branch.

"Every few months Airbnb promises to be a good corporate citizen, and yet somehow they never deliver,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger, who represents Manhattan’s East Side.   

“Just two weeks ago we learned that Airbnb misled officials by strategically removing illegal listings before offering a snapshot of their data,” she said. “That’s not the way to build trust. They say they want clear rules for short term rentals? I don’t think the law could be any clearer on this point. I encourage them to do what every other company in this state has to do — read the law, and follow it."