Judge throws out New York's request for data on Airbnb

The judge called the subpoena overly broad

Airbnb won a break from rising legal scrutiny as a New York judge threw out a subpoena seeking mounds of data about people who have rented out their living spaces through the service.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued the subpoena last fall as part of an investigation into "bad actor" hosts and other illegal activity carried out using the website, including unpaid taxes on rentals. One issue was a New York law governing hotel taxes paid on rentals lasting longer than 14 days. Airbnb subsequently filed a motion to block the subpoena, calling it a "fishing expedition."

The subpoena had demanded the names and mailing and email addresses of thousands of Airbnb hosts in New York, as well as dates of stay, rates, methods of payment and total revenue for the rentals.

Calling it "unduly burdensome," New York State Supreme Court Justice Gerald Connolly wrote in a filing on Tuesday that the subpoena was overly broad. "The subpoena at issue, as drafted, seeks materials that are irrelevant to the inquiry at hand and accordingly, must be quashed," Connolly wrote.

Airbnb applauded the filing. "This decision is good news for New Yorkers who simply want to share their home and the city they love," the company said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing to work with the attorney general's office to make New York stronger for everyone," the company said.

However, Judge Connolly wrote in the filing that Airbnb itself had failed to demonstrate that the subpoena was unduly burdensome.

Also, there is evidence that a substantial number of hosts may be in violation of housing and tax laws, according to Connolly. "There are hosts regularly using their apartments to provide lodging to guests who may not be complying with the state and local tax registration and/or collection requirements," he wrote.

Airbnb recently said it removed some 2,000 New York listings from its site, targeting hosts who were abusing its service.

Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for the attorney general, said in a statement that the office was "committed to enforcing a law that provides vital protections for building residents and tourists alike." The attorney general's office will reissue the subpoena with a sharper focus, he said.

Airbnb's service is generating rising interest from regulators. Hosts in San Francisco may face new restrictions over how they rent their homes using the site.

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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