Airbnb and the law

Kevin Davis has written this article reviewing legal issues raised by airbnb, the on-line apartment and home rental site that says it facilitates "[r]ent[als] from people in over 34,000 cities and 192 countries." Among the issues are (1) whether airbnb renters should have business licenses in cities and towns that require them generally, and (2) whether and how the authorities can collect occupancy taxes. Here are some excerpts from Davis's article:

While Airbnb is careful to inform its users that they're responsible for complying with local laws, as well as checking their leases and conferring with condo and co-op boards, that hasn't prevented a host of conflicts.New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman served Airbnb with a subpoena last October in an effort to investigate whether Airbnb hosts were avoiding occupancy taxes by operating illegal hotels. The subpoena asked for the tax information and addresses of those who rented out their apartments in New York City, which amounts to about 15,000 people. Airbnb sought to quash the subpoena, calling the request "unreasonably broad" and a "government-sponsored fishing expedition." The subpoena also prompted the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy & Technology to support Airbnb with an amicus brief, taking the view that "legal processes targeting online intermediaries as a means to get to information about their users en masse raises pronounced privacy concerns." * * * [Chicago] police believed [Antoinette Wonsley] was using her home for more than just incidental use based on the number of people seen coming and going from the residence. "There's good money in it," says Wonsey, who rents out three bedrooms, which include bunk beds. Police were tipped off because they saw many of Wonsey's guests wandering in the South Side neighborhood where she lives, an area that doesn't get many outside visitors. Officers cited her for operating a hotel without a business license. … Wonsey said a lawyer from Airbnb called and they talked, but there wasn't much he could do from [Airbnb's headquarter's in] San Francisco. "I don't know what they could have done. You have to go by the laws of the land where you are," she says. David Staudacher, information coordinator for Chicago's Office of Consumer Protection and Business Affairs, says the city has received complaints about Airbnb and has issued tickets to people renting the spaces without a business license. He did not provide the exact number, however.

Read the Electronic Frontier Foundation brief referred to above.