WASHINGTON D.C. — Today, New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law that would impose fines ranging from $1,000 to $7,500 for advertising apartment rentals under 30 days. The legislature had passed the bill in June, leading AirBnB and other operators of home-sharing websites to attempt to negotiate a compromise with New York City, which had largely driven the measure.
A 2010 law had already made it illegal for individuals to rent out an entire apartment for shorter than 30 days. The new bill imposes liability on platform operators for policing what individuals do. Legislators claim the laws are intended to shut down illegal hotel operations, citing concerns about safety codes, but the laws also prevent New Yorkers from earning extra income by renting out unused space.
“New York is heading straight for the buzz-saw of federal law,” said Berin Szóka, President of TechFreedom. “Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 bars states from doing precisely this: making online platforms responsible for the speech of their users. That safe harbor has been vital for the development of Internet services. Yet it seems state legislators keep forgetting it exists. That means we keep going round and round the merry-go-round of illegal legislation and pointless litigation — instead of trying to craft reasonable requirements for licensing and policing hosts themselves, as in Arizona.”
“New York will also likely lose on First Amendment grounds,” said Ashkhen Kazaryan, Legal Fellow at TechFreedom. “The Constitution protects commercial speech, like advertising your home as long as it is not fraudulent, misleading or criminal. It’s not clear, but New York may to be trying to evade First Amendment scrutiny simply by criminalizing sharing your own home, as other jurisdictions have. Such an end-run around our most sacred constitutional rights would open the door to any number of attacks on free speech by adding to the already severe problem of overcriminalization.”
“We and other consumer advocates would have preferred to work out a legislative compromise, but now that the Governor has taken this leap, we’ll have to stand up for home-owners’ rights in court,” concluded Szóka. “Cuomo will be remembered for uniting defenders of free speech, innovation and economic freedom against Big Hotel’s attempt to use state law to thwart any possible competition.”
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