By Gerry Shih
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Airbnb, the room-rental service, went to court Wednesday to block a subpoena from the New York Attorney General seeking information on more than 15,000 tenants who rent out their rooms on the popular website.
The subpoena would be difficult for the company to comply with because it covers data from hundreds of thousands of separate records, the company told the New York State Supreme Court in a filing.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has opened an investigation into whether hosts on Airbnb, a Silicon Valley venture capital-backed website that lets people put up spare rooms or couches for rent, are breaking a 2010 law that prohibits renters from subletting their room for less than 30 days.
Subletting services have nonetheless exploded in popularity in recent years, with Airbnb boasting 225,000 users in New York alone. The company, headed by 32-year old Rhode Island School of Design graduate Brian Chesky, has been valued at more than $1 billion.
But the company has run afoul of authorities in cities around the country for violating zoning laws that prohibit unlicensed rentals, as well as ducking taxes that hotels ordinarily have to pay. New York State senator Liz Krueger, the author of the 2010 law, has called Airbnb's business "unambiguously illegal."
Schneiderman's office first demanded in August that the company turn over the records of all Airbnb hosts in New York State, believed to number 15,000. State prosecutors issued the subpoena last week after failing to obtain the records, despite several rounds of negotiations with Airbnb lawyers.
Airbnb head of global policy David Hantman criticized Schneiderman's subpoena as "unreasonably broad" and vowed to fight it with "everything we've got."
The subpoena "demands information about thousands of regular Airbnb hosts in New York," Hantman wrote in a company blog post Wednesday. "We made it clear to the Attorney General's office from the very beginning that we would never agree to this type of government-sponsored fishing expedition."
(This story is refiled to correct spelling of Liz Krueger in fifth paragraph)
(Reporting by Gerry Shih. Editing by Andre Grenon)