Commentary

In Battle With New York AG, Airbnb Makes Case For Its Services

Airbnb is taking its battle with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to the court of public opinion.

Earlier today, the company convened a press conference where it unveiled a report touting the economic benefits it brings to the city's outer boroughs, as well as to its middle-class hosts. The study, conducted by HR&A Advisors, concludes that the 416,000 Airbnb users who visited in the last year had a total economic impact on the city of $632 million.

The report also says that 82% of the rentals in New York take place in neighborhoods like Astoria, Fort Greene, Harlem and other locales outside hotel-dense mid-Manhattan. Average visitors spend $740 in the neighborhoods where they stay, according to the report.

Additional findings are that 87% of New York hosts rent the place they live in, and that 50% of them earn less than $72,000 a year.

Those numbers, which come from surveys and focus groups, obviously are subject to challenge. But even if the precise dollar amounts are off, it can't hurt Airbnb to remind people that its service makes it more affordable for people to visit the city.

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But that doesn't change the fact that many Airbnb users in New York are flouting a 2010 law that prohibits rentals for less than 30 days, unless they're also present. Some New York residents also might be violating a tax law by failing to collect hotel use taxes from guests -- though the tax law seems to have plenty of ambiguities.

An online petition to change New York's law banning short-term rentals has already garnered more than 70,000 votes. But it's not yet clear whether the company will be able to get the groundswell of public support it needs to get the law rewritten.

One on hand, the service clearly benefits many tourists, who can use the service to find alternatives to pricy hotels, and some residents, who can make some extra money by renting out their homes. But the service also has plenty of detractors in New York, including tenants who don't rent out their homes. Many tenants groups are opposed to the idea of sharing their apartment buildings with transient tourists who, unlike themselves, haven't been vetted by their building's management.

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