Airbnb Picks Up Celebrity Allies In Albany Battle — WSJ

By Mike Vilensky 
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Ashton Kutcher would like a word with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The “Two and a Half Men” star and venture capitalist is among a group of boldface names in the tech sector who sent a letter to Mr. Cuomo on Tuesday, urging him to veto legislation that would penalize Airbnb hosts in New York City.

“As investors and industry leaders, we believe in the good that Airbnb and home sharing have done for residents of New York,” the letter states. “We implore you to reaffirm your commitment to fostering technology and innovation.”

The state Senate and Assembly in June both passed a bill that would impose fines as high as $7,500 on Airbnb hosts who advertise rentals of fewer than 30 days in multiunit New York City buildings if the tenant or owner isn’t present. Such rentals have been illegal in the city since 2010, but the law hasn’t been aggressively enforced.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has until January to sign or veto the bill. A spokesman for his office said it is under review.

The letter’s more than three dozen other signatories include PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. Some of them, including Mr. Kutcher, are Airbnb investors. His representatives didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The legislation in question poses a conundrum for the governor, who faces fierce lobbying and has allies on both sides of the issue.

His fellow Democrats have led the regulatory effort, saying that Airbnb has exacerbated a shortage of affordable housing in the city, since Airbnb operators rent out units that would otherwise be available to residents. They have also argued that the home-sharing service poses safety risks and quality-of-life problems for building residents.

The Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council, a group of liberal Democrats, urged Mr. Cuomo in July to sign the bill. The penalties, they wrote in a letter, “will go a long way towards stopping the proliferation of illegal hotels that currently puts affordable housing at risk.”

Affordable-housing advocates and the Real Estate Board of New York also sent Mr. Cuomo a letter asking him to sign the bill. Hotel unions have helped fund an anti-Airbnb campaign called “Share Better” and spoken out in favor of the bill penalizing users.

Airbnb and its supporters say the service helps middle-class New Yorkers earn extra money and that New York’s policies are being influenced too heavily by hotel unions who donate to state lawmakers.

Julie Samuels, executive director of the trade group Tech:NYC, who signed and helped organize Tuesday’s letter sent to Mr. Cuomo said signing the bill would “send the message that New York is not open for business.”

Airbnb faced its biggest setback in New York six years ago, when state Democrats passed the measure making some short-term rentals illegal. The company has since fought back through lobbying, ad campaigns and mobilizing tech leaders, but it has struggled with legislators pushing for further regulation.

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, the bill’s Democratic sponsor, doesn’t know whether Mr. Cuomo plans to sign it, but “a letter from Ashton Kutcher probably won’t make a scintilla of difference,” she said. “He’s trying to punk me.”

Write to Mike Vilensky at mike.vilensky[a]

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