AirBnB, Inc. v. City of New York, No. 18-7712; HomeAway, Inc. v. City of New York, No. 18-7742 (S.D.N.Y.) January 3, 2019.
The City of New York has enacted measures requiring online rental booking services to turn over their business records each month, a measure intended to limit the proliferation of short-term rentals. The services have successfully sought preliminary injunctive relief on Fourth Amendment grounds.
No physical entry on the online booking providers’ premises is involved in the contemplated municipal demand for monthly records. Nonetheless, the court found, the Fourth Amendment may be implicated without such a physical intrusion. Moreover, the federal court found, that the source of the intrusion lies within a municipal ordinance rather than an agent of the state does not remove the providers’ Fourth Amendment protections. The critical issue is the intrusion upon the providers’ expectations of privacy.
The court declined to reach the booking services’ argument that the ordinance compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment, as the Fourth Amendment issue was perceived to be sufficient to support issuance of a preliminary injunction.
The case is one of a series of attempts to impose regulations sufficient to dissuade further proliferation of short-term rentals of properties through entities such as AirBnB and HomeAway. Whether the plaintiffs will prevail in the long run remains to be seen For the moment, however, it is of note that the court was not hesitant in reading the Fourth Amendment generously and in keeping with emerging concepts of telecommunications and online privacy considerations, a position which may work to the betterment of privacy interests online for all.
Equally of note is the notion of regulatory measures gathering business information as a substitute for zoning or other more traditional property rights enforcement devices. Where physical boundaries are ceding their predominance to online invisible geography, such laws are worthy of attention, and to some, are cause for concern.