Following the indictment of President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager on conspiracy and money laundering charges that included illegally renting out a SoHo condo, a group of elected officials is asking home-sharing platform Airbnb to remove any illegal rental listings from its website.
In a letter sent to Airbnb Inc. chief executive officer Brian Chesky Monday from the office of Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, more than two dozen state and New York City officials are also asking that Airbnb share hosts’ addresses with New York regulators, as first reported in the New York Daily News.
“Airbnb must no longer be permitted to shield illegal operators by claiming it is protecting the privacy of hosts when those hosts look like Paul Manafort and his Russian oligarch clients. At a time when we are learning that popular new media sites are being used to push agendas dangerous to our democracy, we must ask for more, not less information from technology giants like Airbnb,” the letter signed by roughly two dozen elected officials said.
In an emailed response to a request for comment, a spokesman for Airbnb told the New York Law Journal , “can you imagine if Airbnb asked legislators to sign a letter slamming hotels because of one reckless guest? That would be deeply inappropriate, completely misleading and not at all related to the actual issues at hand.”
Last Monday, Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was indicted on federal conspiracy charges stemming from the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The indictment alleges money laundering, tax evasion and unregistered foreign lobbying. Manafort is accused of using “hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income.”
According to the indictment, Manafort spent $6.4 million from offshore accounts to purchase three properties including a home in Arlington, Virginia, a brownstone on Union Street in Brooklyn and a condo on Howard Street in Manhattan. Prosecutors claim that Manafort used a corporate vehicle called MC Soho Holdings LLC that he and his family owned to buy the $2.85 million SoHo property under the guise that it would be for personal use. The funds used to purchase the condo came from a Manafort entity in Cyprus, federal prosecutors allege.
But from January 2015 through 2016, Manafort used the condo as an “income-generating rental property, charging thousands of dollars a week on Airbnb, among other places,” the indictment claims.
A spokesperson for Manafort on Nov. 9 disputed prosecutors’ assertion in the indictment that Manafort had rented out the SoHo property on Airbnb. “Paul Manafort has never had an Airbnb account and we are confident the facts will show he was not involved in the renting of the Howard St. property over Airbnb,” the spokesperson said.
State multiple dwelling law requires that the primary resident of the apartment forbids renting out a unit for fewer than 30 days unless the primary resident is present. A state law passed in 2016 also increased penalties for illegal short-term rentals and makes it illegal to advertise an illegal short-term rental unit and imposed stiff penalties for doing so.
The letter lawmakers sent to the Airbnb CEO also questions Airbnb’s oversight of who gets to be a host. “Airbnb claims that it polices its own website. But this notion stretches credulity given that Manafort’s money laundering LLC was able to so easily slip through the cracks. If a commercial operator like Manafort’s slipped through Airbnb’s so-called sophisticated filters, how many other illegal commercial operators slip through those same cracks every day?” the letter says.
In the company’s response to the letter, Airbnb goes on to criticize the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, the powerful statewide union that represents roughly 35,000 hotel workers, which has mounted a campaign against the home-sharing website. Airbnb is engaged in a bitter feud with the hotel industry, which has deep roots in New York and considerable sway among lawmakers.
Rosenthal, a member of ShareBetter—the hotel industry-backed campaign against Airbnb—has sponsored legislation to require Airbnb hosts to share their addresses on the company’s website in an effort to uncover illegal listings.
This isn’t the first time opponents of Airbnb have used current events to push the company to disclose the addresses of hosts. In early August, a hotel industry-backed campaign released a campaign ad linking short-term rentals to the May bombing that killed 23 people and injured hundreds more following an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, although the suspects did not use Airbnb in that instance.