Airbnb calls hosts 'micro-entrepreneurs' in need of new laws

Airbnb's CEO said a lack of laws covering the site's hosts is a fundamental problem

Addressing his company's legal battle with New York over its users' data, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said on Tuesday that maybe the current laws shouldn't apply to the hosts who use its site to rent out rooms and apartments.

The travel and accommodations site is embroiled in a dispute with New York state regulators over a subpoena for information on thousands of "hosts" in the city. The case stems from claims that some hosts have violated a 2010 law that places limits on New York City residents' ability to rent out their rooms and apartments.

The conflict is not entirely unexpected, Chesky said, because the fundamental problem is that there are no laws for those whom Airbnb calls hosts or "micro-entrepreneurs."

"There are laws for people, and there are laws for business," Chesky said during the company's "Airbnb Open" event at its headquarters in San Francisco. But for Airbnb's hosts, "there are no laws written," he said.

Airbnb is having conversations with local governments in an effort to address the issue, Chesky said.

The New York State attorney general's office issued its subpoena against Airbnb in October. The company is fighting the subpoena.

Speaking in front of an audience of Airbnb hosts, Chesky argued that Airbnb's service, which lets people find, list and book accommodations, helps invigorate the economies of cities where its hosts live. Last year, for example, Airbnb helped to generate US$630 million worth of business in New York City from people traveling there through the site, Chesky said.

Airbnb hosts provided lodging to hundreds of thousands of travelers in New York City last year, according to the company.

Worldwide, Airbnb has more than 350,000 hosts living in roughly 34,000 cities, according to the company.

Chesky's comments were made during the company's unveiling of a redesigned mobile app geared toward hosts.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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