Airbnb condemns New York City's 'bellhop politics,' threatens legal retaliation 

  • Airbnb policy and public affairs head Chris Lehane launched into an impassioned diatribe on Tuesday that condemned the "bellhop politics" he said are motivating New York City's resistance to Airbnb.
  • On Wednesday, New York City Council will vote on bill that would force Airbnb to turn over names and addresses of its hosts to the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement.
  • As the bill is likely to pass, Lehane said all options are on the table, including a law suit.
Chris Lehane, Head of Global Policy at Airbnb.
CNBC
Chris Lehane, Head of Global Policy at Airbnb.

Airbnb's policy and public affairs head Chris Lehane launched into an impassioned diatribe on Tuesday that condemned the "bellhop politics" he said are motivating New York City's resistance to Airbnb.

"Members of city council are nothing more than bellhops for the big hotel corporations. And it's no surprise this type of bellhop politics has produced a process that has yielded bad legislation that at the end of the day is going to hurt everyday New Yorkers," said Lehane, who was formerly a political consultant to the Clinton White House.

Airbnb executives held a conference call on the eve of a Wednesday City Council vote on legislation designed to rein in illegal hotels, or rentals under 30 days where the homeowner is not present. Airbnb expects the bill will further squeeze the online hospitality marketplace's tenuous grasp on its largest market when it passes — and it likely will.

The new legislation would force Airbnb to turn over names and addresses of its hosts to the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement. Failure to do so would result in fines up to $25,000, according to the New York Times. Similar measures in other cities have cut down on Airbnb's business.

“I have seen firsthand the risks illegal hotels pose to public safety and how they reduce the supply of desperately needed affordable housing," New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement.

"The bill passing Wednesday would require Airbnb and similar platforms to disclose basic data on their bookings so we can effectively root out bad actors, something Airbnb has consistently refused to do themselves. It has broad support in the Council because we hear about this issue nonstop from our constituents," he added.

Airbnb insists its issues with the new bill are not revenue-related, but that it would violate the privacy of users looking to legally supplement their incomes in an already expensive city. Lehane said once the legislation goes through, all options are on the table, including legal action.

"Tomorrow, New York City is going to pass legislation that really punishes those New Yorkers who depend on Airbnb to make ends meet," Lehane said.

The City Council vote is just the latest in an ongoing spat between New York City and Airbnb. New York City lawmakers are convinced Airbnb has contributed to rising rent and housing shortages, which the comptroller detailed in a May study.

Airbnb argued the report's methodology is biased favor of the hotel industry, and retaliated by publishing a list of City Council Members and contributions they've received from the hotel industry.

Lehane insisted on Tuesday, like CEO Brian Chesky has in the past, that the difficulties the company has encountered in New York City would probably warrant the company exiting the market were the decision purely business and revenue-motivated. The company, Chesky and Lehane argued, will remain for the sake of homeowners it says rely on the service to make money when they rent their spaces to users.

"If the members of New York City Council were interested in affordable housing, or protecting middle class New Yorkers, we wouldn't be here today, we would be working together on some sensible rules," Lehane said.

"This is not about Airbnb, this is not about New York City's housing stock," he added.

Airbnb says its top five 2018 markets, which include New York City, only account for about 4.3 percent of total listings. Lehane declined to detail just how much revenue the company brings in from its New York market.