Airbnb's "new model" for working with cities -- violating hosts' privacy

Airbnb’s “new model” for working with cities is to share data about hosts with city government — names, addresses, even the number of nights you rent out the bedroom in your house – may be handed over to your local government under this new model.

Airbnb has arranged to do this in Chicago as well as in New Orleans.

This “new model” represents a 180 degree reversal for Airbnb, which used to stand with hosts against government overreach – Airbnb has actually sued cities, from Anaheim to Santa Monica, to New York and San Francisco – over unreasonable regulations. Now, Airbnb is not only backing down from such regulatory fights, but is actually siding with cities which set up regulations which appear to violate Constitutional protections, such as the right against illegal search and seizure. Airbnb’s Chris Lehane, head of Global Policy for the company, is touting arrangements such as those in Chicago which violate hosts’ privacy, as representing Airbnb’s “new model” for working with cities.

Hosts are so happy about it they are suing the city of Chicago for violations of the US Constitution, such as violations of due process and against illegal search and seizure. Perhaps they should consider suing Airbnb as well, for the same violations? Well Airbnb doesn’t allow users to sue – so – could hosts engage in the arbitration process regarding this issue? The point being – hosts and Airbnb are not aligned on this issue of host privacy, and Airbnb’s “new model” is not compatible with host’s own interests.

From a Skift article about the situation in Chicago:

"Chicago crossed the line into the privacy of people’s homes by imposing sweeping regulations governing Airbnb and other home-sharing services, a lawsuit from a group of current and former Airbnb hosts argues.
Keep Chicago Livable says the ordinance set to take effect in December tramples constitutional rights to freely and anonymously communicate on the internet, use one’s own property, be guaranteed due process, and be protected against illegal search and seizure. The group filed its lawsuit Friday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
“The law requires Airbnb to share with the government all information about its users in Chicago without a warrant, consent, or proof of any crime,” said Shorge Kenneth Sato, an attorney for the group. “Information about who they have as guests, where they live, how much they paid, how long they stayed.”
“All that information is private. Government has no business knowing that,” he said.

It does seem that at the same time that government is crossing a line, Airbnb is crossing the same line, and violating the rights of its users in its chummy agreements with cities. What do hosts feel about this and what will they do in municipalities where this is occurring?

1 Like

It’s a difficult one; generally I would normally say the government has no business knowing this but a couple of things immediately strike me;

Hotels have to provide information on guests
Hotels have to declare their income
Commercial businesses involved in STRs also have to do the same.

Airbnb has therefore been operating in a grey area and it seems to me the government was always going to catch up. Where there’s unreported income there is unclaimed tax.

Since this all relates to commercial activity I just don’t know if we can argue it’s an invasion of privacy. In the UK the government has the right to ask both Airbnb and companies like EBay for such information; they haven’t as yet.


By this argument…Isn’t any business that one engages in, a commercial activity? Would Craiglist then be required to collect information about everyone posting something for sale on their site, or listing an apartment for rent, and hand all that data over to the government? }

I don’t believe that renting out space within one’s home is considered a “commerical activity” under the law. THere was a case in Colorado which dealt with this question, and in that case it was determined that short term rentals are not a commercial use of property – they are a residential use. I quote from the article on that:

Colorado Says: “Short Terms Rentals may not be Commercial Use of Property”

Colorado court of appeals ruled, in a case of HoA Vs. Homeowner, that

A blog article summarizing the decision is on the co hoa law blog:

In a recent decision [Houston v. Wilson Mesa Ranch Homeowners Association, Inc., 2015 WL 4760331 (D. Colo. August 13, 2015], the Colorado Court of
Appeals held that an association’s covenants stating that homes could
not be occupied or used for any commercial or business purpose did not
prohibit a homeowner from renting out his property for short-term
vacation rentals.
A homeowner in the community advertised and rented
his home for rent through the VRBO website. In response to the
homeowner’s actions, the association passed an amendment to its
‘administrative procedures’ prohibiting its members from renting out
their properties for a period of less than thirty days without prior
board approval and establishing a $500 fine for violations.

The Court found that a short-term rental constitutes a residential
and not commercial use of the property and found in favor of the
homeowner. However, had the covenants contained a specific prohibition
against short term rentals, it may have reached an opposite conclusion.
Additionally, the Court found that the ‘administrative procedure’
adopted by the association was improper as it was contrary to the terms
of the covenants. In other words, since the covenants did not prohibit
short term rentals, the association could not restrict rentals absent a
homeowner approved amendment to the covenants.

This case illustrates how caution needs to be
utilized before an association attempt to interpret its covenants too
broadly. The dispute could have been avoided had the covenants
specifically prohibited short term rentals.

Colorado Appeals Court full ruling:

I am not sure if the laws in the UK differ from those elsewhere in Europe, but my understanding from hosts in Europe is that European countries have “data protection” laws which forbid corporations from handing over private data about their users, to the government. In fact one host recently stated that it’s because of such data protection laws that some European companies don’t use servers based in the US, since the US doesn’t have such data protection laws, and use of US servers could compromise the required privacy of data.

As a host i’m in favor of these measures. The fraction of hosts evading local TOTs in the markets i’m most familiar with is completely ridiculous and totally out of control. Practices like this appear to be the best way to combat that.

Whether there are legal loopholes in one state or another that allow hosts to evade taxes or health and safety regulations i don’t know, but i’m certainly ideologically opposed to it.


Yes you’re right … we do have stronger data protection than in the US. Nevertheless, as you stated specific laws are being drafted to ensure governments to get access to the information. I think this is definitely fair enough…in the context of commercial activity. And yes it’s commercial activity when you’re making thousands in income …

Oh one more thing - hopefully it goes without saying that I would rather AirBnB simply required that all hosts comply with local regulations to use the site (i.e. checking permits before enabling booking, and collecting tot where appropriate.)… why that isn’t the first choice in every jurisdiction I still don’t completely understand.


I think Airbnb are starting to move that way … I’ve never paid tax on any of my Airbnb earnings as I’d never earned above the threshold… it’s annoying because we should be trusted to do what we need to do; it’s the fact that there are a few bad apples that are spoiling it for everyone.

I once had a huge argument with an ex for a tax dodge that he was trying to pull off (involving a deal worth millions). It made me really angry that he could do that while single mums working two jobs pay every nickel and dime they have to, often more! We didn’t last long … I felt too much guilt!


Nope, this is not correct.
The " to the government" part is not correct.
Privacy laws in European countries forbid to sell privacy data, or hand it over to foreign governments.
But local governments are allowed to request certain data.

1 Like

I am certainly okay with it. I am collecting money and hosting people in my home. I certainly understand my 4th Amendment right to privacy, but when I take money for a service, especially one that can potentially put people at risk I can only assume some form of regulation will come into play. Airbnb has been in a grey area for too long. I have shared my feelings about Air in NYC before – good for NYC and shame on Air for their bogus lawsuit. I support the laws as they have been written for decades and the new law about advertising.


I believe AirBNB reports to the Australian Tax Office; and the ATO provides the information on their platform for our accountant to access. This makes life so much easier because we go to the accountant and they already have our income; tax paid; etc.

As someone recently pointed out to me in this board, apparently, comparing us to hotels is illogical lol.

Anyway, while hosts and hotels are both involved in hospitality, there are some differences that could make this into an unreasonable search and seizure and a violation of privacy by the government.

Basically, it’s because hotels etc. are built solely for business. They’re expressly public and are set up with that expectation. That’s not the case with say, my private guest room.

Why should it be illegal for a government to know about economic activity that you’ve been engaging in ? Is your argument really that because you earn money from a bedroom in your home the government has no right to be interested ?

1 Like

Yes. I may have guests who pay to stay in my home but it’s not the government’s business who is in my home, when they’re there, etc.

It’s not about tax evasion. AirBnB sends a tax form in order to account for and pay taxes in the income from it. If the government could keep track of it, we’d pay taxes on garage sales too.

But our Constitution has a clause against unreasonable searches and seizures. Our right to privacy is derived from the 4th amendment, as are women’s reproductive rights in this country.

A government demanding this information, other than income information, constitutes a search.

For example, perhaps you have people staying with you who are long-term residents, maybe they have a lease to a private room in your home. The government doesn’t get to demand information about them unless there’s a crime or suspicion of a crime involving that person or your premises.

The only thing the government has a real interest in is the money I make so I can pay my income taxes.


Your statement seems rather naive – would you consider it legal for instance for a government agent to walk into a business at any time, and demand to do a search of the its accounting documents? Why prohibit the government from just walking to anyone’s home at any time and demanding to search any part of it, if that person rents out space there? Why have any laws at all limiting the government in its ability to conduct searches? Would you ask questions like those?

There are laws about when and what and where the government may do any search, whether one is engaged in business or not. Are you a US resident? It doesn’t sound like you are familiar with the protections given to all citizens by the US Constitution. Your argument, carried forward with incredulity that any citizen would be protected from illegal government searches, sounds a bit like what one would expect of someone with experience living in a fascist dictatorship or a communist nation. Not a (relatively) free democracy. Although, as far as that goes, I would have to concede that a surprising number of US Citizens seem to have little care for the protections and rights they are afforded under the Constitution, and are quite happy to throw them away.


I think other countries besides the U.S. know a little something about privacy laws. Europe has stricter data protection laws than the U.S. And I think we Americans are gonna know something about fascists soon enough, but the U.S. Constitution is not black and white and is open to broad interpretations. Our SCOTUS is proof of that.

You are absolutely reasonable to have concerns and objections - I don’t share them at all, mind you, but yours are certainly not unreasonable; I’ve heard crazier stuff - and while you can’t sue Airbnb because everyone agrees to arbitration, you could always try to organize a class action lawsuit against your state’s attorney general.

1 Like

Isn’t the real issue that income is taxable, regardless of how it was achieved? In theory, some citizens in certain countries are suppose to declare all their income. The argument here is drifting into that privacy rights should prevent or make it very hard for the government to be able to find out about it, though it is indeed a taxable income.

I am no fan of big government mind you, why live in one with 1.75% income tax. Low enough for me to agree enthusiastically to be Mr. Happy Taxpayer. :sunglasses:

Everyone is required to declare their income to the government – that isn’t the question. And it is an insult to imply that those who are advocates of Constitutional rights to privacy, must have something to hide – though a surprising number of people seem to be thinking this way. I dont’ quite understand this, particularly because a good number of people would oppose the government giving itself permission to randomly stop people who “looked like” illegal immigrants and demand their documents. Who would say to that person demanded to show their documentation, who protested such treatment, “What do you have to hide?”

The issue at hand is that Airbnb is apparently fine in handing over massive amounts of data to local governments to sift through and look for violators. That isn’t allowed – it’s what I would consider a textbook example of the government going on a “fishing expedition” and conducting an illegal search. Such fishing expeditions may be legal in some places, but they aren’t in the US. And yes, as CatskillsGrl says it is often a matter of interpretation, as to how things fall out (and this is a new business model in many ways so it tests laws in many ways)…but I am still surprised the number of people who don’t seem concerned about such government giving itself authority to do ostensibly illegal searches.

I’m not speaking from my own personal interests – I have no interest in suing anyone or going into arbitration or instigating a class action lawsuit. I’m interested in hosts being informed about what is going on in the world around them, particularly as regards the context in which they do short term rentals.

1 Like

You went from Airbnb to the US Government in a jiffy in the same sentence- the two are not the same. Airbnb has to adhere to the US Government laws. I am sure they are not glad to serve as the US Goverment’s tax collecting arm, because they are happy being in bed together with them. Airbnb’s data is the conduit, but the real force is the government that they and all of ‘us’ fall under. Perhaps they are being forced to hand over such data. Perhaps they are are not ‘fine’ with being forced to do it.

I have never heard of one business happy to be a fellow ‘hog at the through’ in taxing its customers.

I dont’ believe that Airbnb can be legally required to hand over the data that it actually seems to be willing to hand over – and I’m not clear that it’s handing this over because of a requirement to do so. I got the sense Airbnb was offering this up.

Airbnb has up to now fought strenuously to avoid handing over such data – what’s changed?