Airbnb Inc. has taken a page straight from the Peter Thiel playbook of litigation funding. Thiel, an American billionaire, secretly funded Hulk Hogan’s privacy case against now-defunct Gawker Media. Investors placing bets on lawsuits have long operated under a veil of secrecy.
As litigation funding becomes more well known in the United States, it seems as the online home-rental company is now providing financial assistance for a lawsuit brought by one of its hosts against New York City, as the startup gears up for a vicious fight with officials.
Plaintiff Stanley “Skip” Karol, a 56-year-old Airbnb host who has lived in the same two-family home in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, for 57 years, sued New York City in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York Wednesday, accusing Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration of retaliating against him for speaking out in support of home rentals.
About a week after Karol appeared at a city council hearing to criticize the de Blasio administration and the proposed anti-Airbnb legislation, the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement (OSE) hand-delivered Karol at his home, four summonses which in total demanded payment of up to $32,000 in fines.
“Of all the Airbnb listings in the entire city, the City chose to go after mine — just days after I raised concerns that their hotel-backed legislation could jeopardize my privacy and rights,” Karol said in a statement. “I believe that the City has sought to silence me, by not only saddling me with massive fines, but also making me feel unsafe in my own home. Such retaliation is not acceptable — and should be deeply disturbing to all New Yorkers.”
According to Bloomberg, the suit was filed hours before the new law passed (45-to-0 in a city council vote) on Wednesday, which would require Airbnb and other home-rental sites to disclose the names and addresses of hosts. The bill is designed to help city officials combat illegal short-term stays.
Airbnb strongly opposes the new law, saying it would violate the privacy of law-abiding hosts.
Airbnb and New York City officials have been at each other’s throats. Comptroller Scott M. Stringer’s research desk recently released a stunning report indicating the home-sharing site caused New Yorkers to fork up an additional $616 million in rent for the 2016 time period, which Airbnb disputed. Last month, Airbnb fired back at the de Blasio administration and accused certain City Council members of being puppets for the hotel industry.
As part of the Peter Thiel playbook, Airbnb has agreed to cover all legal expenses for Karol’s case. In a release from the law firm representing Karol, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, his lawyer said, “People shouldn’t have to worry that when they go home, there’s going to be a knock on the door just because they decided to speak up against the government.”
While the hotel-backed de Blasio administration of crony capitalists wage war against the everyday American trying to make an honest living, it seems as Airbnb’s Peter Thiel playbook of litigation funding could be sent into hyperdrive as there are more than 40,000 hosts in the city.