Companies Built on Sharing Balk When It Comes to Regulators

Airbnb logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Airbnb logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Regulators as well as some elected officials across the country are increasingly questioning the presumptions and tactics of these start-ups

In the newfangled sharing economy, questions about safety, taxes and regulation have tended to be an afterthought. That has helped propel companies like Uber, Airbnb and Lyft into the stratosphere.

But regulators as well as some elected officials across the country are increasingly questioning the presumptions and tactics of these start-ups, especially the notion that laws do not apply to them.

The companies are fighting back by rallying their impassioned and growing customer base. And they are stocking up on lawyers and lobbyists.

The latest confrontation comes Tuesday as Airbnb, the largest housing rental company, goes to court in Albany. It is fighting an effort by New York regulators to collect the names of Airbnb hosts who are breaking the law by renting out multiple properties for short periods.

Airbnb, which is now estimated to be worth $10 billion, is framing the dispute as a case of government scooping up more data than it needs for purposes that are vague.

“He claims to be targeting a small number of bad actors,” said David Hantman, Airbnb’s head of global public policy, referring to the New York attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman. “But he is asking for data on thousands of regular New Yorkers.”

In a blog post, Airbnb said the regulators’ plan was to accuse Airbnb hosts in court “of being bad neighbors and bad citizens.” It added: “They’ll call us slumlords and tax cheats. They might even say we all faked the moon landing.”

It is against the law in New York City to rent out an apartment for less than a month, a 2010 measure meant to curb unregulated hotels. Mr. Schneiderman says 60 percent of Airbnb rentals in New York are illegal.

Existing laws, Airbnb executives say, do not fit the sharing economy.

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