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Judge rejects lawsuit against Airbnb by major landlord

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to crack down on renters advertising their apartments on the short-tern mental site Airbnb. (Special to The Forum)1 / 2
A federal judge ruled that Airbnb can't be held responsible for hosts who advertise their apartments in violation of their lease. (Special to The Forum) 2 / 2

In a win for some renters who rely on Airbnb to make extra cash, a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to crack down on hosts using the short-term rental site without their landlords' permission.

Aimco, which owns apartment buildings throughout the U.S., had tried to force San Francisco-based Airbnb to police tenants who list their apartments on the site in violation of their leases. But a federal judge in Los Angeles sided with Airbnb.

Aimco disagrees with the court's ruling and is considering its legal options, spokeswoman Cindy Lempke said.

"Airbnb is not a passive online platform, but an active and knowing participant in the illegal short-term rentals of our apartments," Lempke wrote in an emailed statement. "Aimco has made the deliberate choice to expressly prohibit short-term rentals to unaccountable Airbnb users who have not undergone our background screening, who cause disruption for our residents, and who are apt to treat our apartments like hotel rooms rather than homes."

Denver-based Aimco sued Airbnb last year, arguing Airbnb guests were wreaking havoc in some of its Los Angeles properties. Tenants complained about loud partying and disrespectful behavior by Airbnb guests, who also damaged property and caused safety concerns, according to Aimco. The landlord said it had to increase security patrols because of the influx of unauthorized guests.

Aimco leases prohibit subletting its apartments, but the landlord estimates that hundreds of tenants use Airbnb to do so anyway.

The landlord asked Airbnb to kick Aimco tenants off its platform, and Airbnb refused, setting the stage for a legal showdown. Aimco sought to bring a class action lawsuit on behalf of all landlords who own apartment buildings where Airbnb facilitates short-term rentals without handing over a portion of the profits to the landlord.

But last week, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ruled that Airbnb was in the right. She ruled that Airbnb is protected under the Communications Decency Act, a law that shields internet platforms from liability for the content third-parties post on their websites. That means Airbnb is not responsible for the actions of tenants who choose to use Airbnb to violate their leases. "Airbnb hosts—not Airbnb—are responsible for providing the actual listing information," Gee wrote, granting Airbnb's motion to dismiss the suit. "Airbnb 'merely provide(s) a framework that could be utilized for proper or improper purposes.'"

A similar lawsuit Aimco filed against Airbnb is moving forward in Florida, where a state court judge recently rejected Airbnb's attempt to throw out the case, Lempke said.

For years, Airbnb has been plagued with controversy over whether it's liable for nefarious conduct facilitated by its platform, and what, if anything, it should do to police hosts. San Francisco and a few of other cities attempted to force Airbnb to reject bookings that violated the cities' short-term rental rules. Airbnb refused and sued San Francisco, but after the judge sided with the city in an early

The court's decision in the Aimco case is particularly good news for Airbnb as it eyes renters as a potentially lucrative income source. In 2016, Airbnb launched its "Friendly Buildings" initiative, which gives tenants the green light to rent out their apartments on Airbnb, as long as they share the proceeds with their landlords. Airbnb also is working with a developer to build the first Airbnb-branded apartment building in Florida, which will cater to renters who want to sublet their rooms on Airbnb.