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Judge Blocks New York City Law Aimed at Curbing Airbnb Rentals

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A federal judge on Thursday blocked a recent New York City law intended to crack down on Airbnb and other online home-sharing sites that city officials say have essentially turned residential apartments into illegal hotels and have aggravated the city’s housing shortage.

The law, which was enacted last summer and was to go into effect next month, would have required the home-sharing services to disclose monthly to the city detailed information about tens of thousands of listings, and the identities and addresses of their hosts.

Airbnb and another firm, HomeAway, sued in August, contending the law was unconstitutional.

On Thursday, the judge, Paul A. Engelmayer of United States District Court in Manhattan, granted Airbnb and HomeAway’s request for a preliminary injunction, stopping the law from going into effect. He wrote that the ordinance violated the guarantee against illegal searches and seizures in the Fourth Amendment, and that the companies were likely to prevail on their claim.

“The city has not cited any decision suggesting that the governmental appropriation of private business records on such a scale, unsupported by individualized suspicion or any tailored justification, qualifies as a reasonable search and seizure,” the judge wrote.
Airbnb called the decision “a huge win for Airbnb and its users,” including “thousands of New Yorkers at risk of illegal surveillance.”

The decision could aid home-sharing services in their fight with other cities that have sought to regulate them, putting a limit on how much information local governments can demand.

The ruling also dealt a major blow to New York City’s political leaders, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, who had championed the law as a way of combating rising rents. Mr. de Blasio signed the law in August after it passed the Council unanimously. It was seen as a major victory for Mr. Johnson just months into his tenure as speaker.

Speaking at a news conference, Mr. de Blasio defended the law on Thursday and predicted that the city would “ultimately prevail” in court.

“We have a huge city with a lot of Airbnb activity and a lot of concern in our neighborhoods and, unfortunately, a lot of examples of abuse,” he said. “To put a strong data regimen in place made all the sense in the world.”

Jacob Tugendrajch, a spokesman for Mr. Johnson, called the law a “vital protection against illegal hotels” and said the Council would continue “the fight for this common sense, data-driven law.”

Mr. de Blasio has contrasted home-sharing services with the hotel industry, which is subject to inspections and regulations that allow the city to hold owners accountable. He has argued that Airbnb should also be required to turn over information that helps the city protect the public interest.

An influential union for hotel workers, the Hotel Trades Council, strongly backed the law.

In a 52-page ruling, Judge Engelmayer did not rule on the merits of Airbnb and HomeAway’s claims, but said the injunction would block the law from taking effect pending resolution of the litigation, which he said would proceed expeditiously.

The law would require online rental services to disclose the addresses of its listings and the identities of its hosts to the city’s Office of Special Enforcement on a monthly basis. Hosts would also be required to list whether the dwelling is their primary residence and whether the entire unit or a portion is available for short-term rentals. Companies that failed to share the data would be subject to fines of $1,500 for each listing they did not disclose.

New York City is Airbnb’s largest domestic market, with more than 50,000 apartment rental listings. But under state law, it is illegal in most buildings for an apartment to be rented out for less than 30 days unless the permanent tenant is residing in the apartment at the same time.

City officials hoped the new disclosure requirements would make it much easier for the city to enforce the state law and would lead to thousands of units rented through Airbnb in the city coming off the market.

Airbnb and other home-rental services have been battling regulation nationally and abroad, as cities including Seattle, San Francisco and London have required such companies to share some data through a registration system for listings.

San Francisco, for example, enacted a law in 2016 that fined home-sharing companies if a host rented an apartment through their platforms without registering it first with the city. Airbnb sued and reached a settlement with the city in 2017, under which the company agreed to register hosts automatically and to turn over a monthly accounting of its listings. Listings on Airbnb plunged by half after the rules went into effect.

But the measure New York City passed went further. Rather than set up a registration system, the law instead required Airbnb and similar companies to turn over the information its users had shared with them, including personal information about the hosts.

Roberta A. Kaplan, a lawyer for Airbnb, said, “I’m not aware of any city that has tried anything of this scope.” The opinion, she added, “sends a strong message to other cities that the New York approach is not the way to go about doing this.”

Judge Engelmayer, in his opinion, said that in the era before electronic data storage, an attempt by a municipality “to compel an entire industry monthly to copy and produce its records as to all local customers would have been unthinkable under the Fourth Amendment.”

The judge said that upholding the ordinance would invite other cities to make “similar demands on e-commerce companies” to routinely turn over broad-ranging customer records to investigative agencies.

That, he added, could allow regulators “to troll these records for potential violations of law” even when there had been no basis to suspect a violation.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/03/nyregion/nyc-airbnb-rentals.html

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Why I love congestion pricing but hate the taxi-Uber surcharge

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For half a century the dream of taming New York City traffic with congestion pricing has eluded a Nobel economist, a billionaire mayor and legions of transit champions, myself included. Yet on Thursday I’ll be joining other advocates and stakeholders in court to ask a state judge to strike down the first phase of a congestion pricing plan.

The initial phase would raise hundreds of millions for subway repairs through surcharges on yellow cabs and Ubers in Manhattan’s central business district. My argument, submitted in an affidavit to the court, is that the surcharge is discriminatory, arbitrary and unjust. I’ll be asking Supreme Court Judge Lynn R. Kotler to invalidate the enabling legislation that Albany concocted last March with its customary shortsighted stealth.

And in the coming weeks, alongside thousands of fellow transit advocates, I’ll be campaigning for fair and more inclusive congestion pricing that eases the squeeze on cab drivers and medallion owners rather than tightening it. (Disclosure: Since Nov. 1 I have been retained by taxi medallion interests to evaluate legislation and regulations concerning congestion pricing surcharges for for-hire vehicles.)

Such a program is simple to sketch. Indeed, an expert panel convened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo did just that a year ago in its “Fix NYC” report. Just charge private cars and trucks a toll to enter the central business district via 60th Street or an East River bridge and add a surcharge to trips in cabs and Ubers in Manhattan south of 96th Street. Using a spreadsheet model I’ve spent years constructing, the panel found that this combination could raise over $1 billion a year for mass transit while cutting travel times by more than 10% on trips within and to the CBD.
Alas, this comprehensive approach didn’t advance past first base last year. The legislature’s consolation prize—taxicab and Uber surcharges—was really a sucker-punch to cabbies and medallion owners. Here’s why:

Without a charge for personal vehicles, city and suburban motorists will fill up much of the street space cleared out by diminished use of for-hire vehicles. In effect, taxis and Ubers will subsidize faster rides in private cars.

Uber and Lyft can use their deep pockets to absorb some of the new surcharges at the outset. Yellow cabs, with no such cushion and with fares strictly regulated, will lose even more business.
Every fare trip in a yellow is continuously wired by GPS to city officials; not so for Uber or Lyft. Guess which sector will have an easier time evading the surcharge?

Albany mandated surcharge discounts of nearly 75% for so-called pooled rides in Ubers and Lyfts, even if no additional passenger comes on board—another nail in the coffin of yellow cabbies.
It’s no exaggeration to speak of coffins. In the past 17 months eight professional drivers have taken their own lives—an epidemic without precedent and unquestionably related to the industry’s financial meltdown.

The policy remedy is straightforward. The Legislature should delay any yellow-cab surcharge until congestion fees on cars and trucks take effect. It should require Ubers and Lyfts to be wired up to the Taxi and Limousine Commission and add a “trawling” fee on each minute those vehicles spend hanging out in Manhattan, clogging traffic while waiting to be pinged. And it should dial down the discount on pooled rides to a level that encourages shared trips but discourages gaming the system.

Such a program could generate more revenue for transit than the surcharges that the legislature enacted last March, while preserving the taxicab sector, according to my traffic modeling.

The first step is for the judge to permanently enjoin the surcharges. Legislative sausage-making that could peremptorily plunge thousands of hard-working New Yorkers deeper into the fiscal abyss may have been the norm in 2018, but it’s time to turn the page.

Cabbies along with the rest of us deserve lawmaking that’s judicious, not capricious. And congestion pricing is too essential to our city to discredit it before it’s had a chance to shine.

Source: https://www.crainsnewyork.com/op-ed/why-i-love-congestion-pricing-hate-taxi-uber-surcharge

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Woman, 34, critically hurt after falling to the ground as she exited yellow taxi in Brooklyn

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A 34-year-old woman was critically hurt in Brooklyn on Sunday when she took a bad fall to the ground after she stepped out a yellow cab, police said.

Cops responding to the scene found the woman lying on her back on Waverly Ave. about 100 feet from its intersection with Willoughby Ave. in Clinton Hill about 4:45 a.m., authorities said.

She had injures to her right ankle, a puncture in her left thigh, bruising on her left elbow and swelling on the right side of her face. Medics took her to New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in critical condition.

Surveillance video from the scene shows the woman getting out of the cab on the driver’s side. Though police initially thought the cab struck her, the video showed that wasn’t the case, an NYPD spokesman said.

Source: https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-metro-woman-struck-brooklyn-20190113-story.html

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Woman Delivers Baby Girl in Backseat of N.Y.C. Taxi: ‘Everyone Started Clapping,’ Witness Says

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A 33-year-old woman delivered her baby girl in the backseat of a yellow cab on New York City’s Upper East Side, Tuesday morning, PEOPLE confirms.

New York police found the woman with her baby inside the vehicle on the corner of East 70th Street and Second Avenue after receiving a call about a “female in active labor” at around 7:55 a.m. local time.

“Upon arrival, officers observed a 33-year-old female who had just given birth to a baby girl inside of a yellow taxi at that location,” a spokesperson for the New York Police Department tells PEOPLE.

“Police did not assist in the birth of the baby.”

The woman and the baby were taken to New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in stable condition and remained in the hospital late Tuesday morning, the spokesperson says.
A witness, Oliya Fedun of Scootercaster, tells PEOPLE that bystanders thought there had been “an accident or someone sick.” Fedun says that, along with the taxi driver, there was another man tending to the woman.

“He was making sure everything was covered from the cameras and then he collected her items from the cab,” Fedun says. “Once the baby was brought out everyone started clapping! ‘Oh, it was a baby! She was giving birth!’ The cheering crowd made the whole experience very powerful.”

Video of the scene shared on social media showed police and medical officials surrounding the car, and shielding the mother and baby with white sheets as they worked to place both in an ambulance.
The woman isn’t the first to have a headline-making birth in 2019.

On New Year’s Day, 32-year-old Jessica Killian, of Grover, North Carolina, gave birth along the side of the road as she and Randy Sain headed to a nearby hospital, according to the Gaston Gazette.

Sain was able to catch the baby boy, who they named Atom Bomb Sain, before he hit the floor of the car.

“If he wouldn’t have been there, there’s no telling what would’ve happened to Atom,” Killian told the publication of Sain. “He could’ve went to the floorboard or anything could’ve happened to him. He pulls over, jumps over to my side and basically caught him as he was coming down.”

And Killian said the baby’s name is fitting: “He really did come out like a bomb.”

Source: https://people.com/human-interest/woman-deliver-baby-nyc-taxi/

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