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New York Attorney General, Activists Call 'Bullshit' on Airbnb's Promises

NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called the initiatives a "transparent ploy."

Airbnb / Flickr

Opponents of short-term home rental services wasted no time blasting Airbnb’s peace overtures.

Just hours after Airbnb pledged to make nice with municipal officials in the pages of the New York Times, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco affordable housing activists — two of the company’s most vocal and consistent critics — called the move a mere PR gimmick.

It is “a transparent ploy by Airbnb to act like a good corporate citizen when it is anything but,” Schneiderman told Re/code in an emailed statement. “The company has all of the information and tools it needs to clean up its act. Until it does, no one should take this press release seriously.”

Schneiderman reacted to Airbnb’s proposals aimed at building inroads with local govermnents. The company said it will share anonymized host listing data with officials, and reaffirmed that it will make sure Airbnb users pay their taxes. The proposals come after its decidedly more combative tones last Tuesday when it successfully blocked Proposition F, a San Francisco ballot initiative that would have severely limited its ability to do business in the region. The company spent more than $8 million to defeat the measure, an amount that will likely increase when both the pro- and anti-Proposition F campaigns make their final financial filings.

“Our desire is to work with state officials on commonsense home sharing rules in order to help make sure everyday New Yorkers have the economic lifeline that so many of them depend on to make ends meet, and [we] are happy to provide the AG a briefing on the information we will be providing the [New York] City Council,” said Airbnb spokesman Christopher Nulty, responding to Schneiderman’s comments. “We believe the win-win here is for regular New Yorkers to be able to share their homes, pay hotel taxes and support local businesses, which is why we have proposed paying the same taxes as hotels, making information about the platform publicly available and committing to a policy of permanent homes only as part of a desired partnership with New York.”

A day after its victory in San Francisco, Airbnb announced that it was launching a global political organizing operation with the goal of uniting Airbnb renters and guests worldwide under the common cause of working on campaigns for the company, similar to the big political enterprise that was built to beat Proposition F.

If last week’s declaration was the stick — a plan to mobilize millions of customers on behalf of Airbnb — then today’s announcement is the carrot, a reflection of Airbnb’s thinking that fighting fire with fire might not work outside of San Francisco.

For example, Airbnb says it will crack down on listings that aren’t in hosts’ primary homes, which include the notorious illegal de facto hotels. Such listings effectively remove apartments and houses from a city’s housing stock, which in turn can squeeze property values and rental prices in places like San Francisco and New York.

“Our community and our business are stronger when guests are staying in primary residences interacting with hosts,” said Nulty. “We will be releasing anonymized information about the profile of the community — including information showing how many hosts are sharing permanent homes — so cities can see if we are walking the walk. Our experience is that our community is very good about making decisions in the best interest of their communities.”

Dale Carlson, a founder of the pro-Proposition F group ShareBetter SF, called today’s entire announcement “smoke and mirrors.” He added that Airbnb’s economic argument is “bullshit.”

“They know they have a problem here, in New York, in cities across the country and globe. And they know that Proposition F was just the opening salvo in a long struggle,” Carlson said. “They also know that it’s going to go on here, [in] New York and elsewhere — it’s why they’re putting up a permanent campaign organization … People are fed up with the impact Airbnb is having on affordability in cities all over the world. That translates into political and regulatory problems.”

On the regulatory front, Attorney General Schneiderman has led the charge against Airbnb, as well as other venture-backed companies, in New York. Yesterday he effectively outlawed daily fantasy sports services like DraftKings and FanDuel. In October of last year, his office released a report indicating that most Airbnb listings in New York were illegal under state law.* Members of New York City’s City Council have also locked horns with Airbnb recently, displeased with how the service self-regulates.

* Curiously, LinkedIn shows that Airbnb public policy staffer Josh Meltzer was Schneiderman’s Deputy Chief of Staff until last month.

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