Airbnb Faces Suit Over Allegedly Unlawful Sublet Posts

 for rent

Airbnb Inc. is being sued for allegedly publishing multiple listings of a home by a renter in violation of an agreement with the homeowner.

Plaintiff Cindy Wang alleges that her renter, Magdalena Limb, has been posting several ads of the property daily to the home-sharing platform even though their rental agreement prohibits subletting.  Wang alleges that because the ads are being posted simultaneously, 16 guests or more, on average, have been staying in the house each night.  The guests have either crammed into bedrooms or slept outside in the backyard, she says.

Limb is falsely representing on Airbnb’s platform that a renter is getting one bedroom, but in fact “many renters will unwittingly find they are renting the same bedroom with several strangers on any given night,” Wang said Nov. 18 in a complaint filed in the California Superior Court.

She says she told Airbnb about the ads but that Airbnb continues to list her home online.

An Airbnb spokesman declined a Bloomberg BNA request for comment.

This year, Airbnb has invoked a federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, to fight a number of state and city laws that it says would hold it liable for third-party content.  For example, Airbnb has argued that a New York law imposing fines for advertising unlawful short-term rentals would force the platform to screen the thousands of listings added each day to ensure none violate the law. 

So far one court has ruled that Section 230 doesn’t protect Airbnb against a San Francisco ordinance barring home-sharing platforms from collecting booking fees from hosts who aren’t registered with the city.  The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said the ordinance imposes liability on platforms for conduct, not third-party online speech.

It remains to be seen if and when Airbnb will move to dismiss Wang’s claim and whether the court will find that the claim does in fact seek to hold Airbnb liable for another’s content.