Data provider says Airbnb report founded on 'flawed conclusions'

AirDNA said report makes several incorrect assumptions about the site's data and what it means. Getty/PeterAmadorRivera

Data analytics company AirDNA is coming out in support of Airbnb amid claims the home-sharing company inflated the cost of rental housing in New York City. This is a blow to New York City comptroller Scott Stringer, whose office released the report, because data from AirDNA is the basis for the majority of the study’s conclusions.

AirDNA, a website that tracks and digests data revolving around Airbnb and its constantly fluctuating selection of hosts, released a statement Friday alleging Stringer’s report incorrectly interpreted AirDNA’s data, leading to a number of flawed conclusions. Furthermore, AirDNA claims the comptroller never contacted the service to ask for guidance or professional expertise on how to read its data, which partly led to its faulty interpretation.

In addition, AirDNA told the New York Times that Stringer’s report makes use of data that may have been improperly obtained. Much of the data used in the report was locked behind a paywall on AirDNA’s website, but the organization has no record of receiving payment from the comptroller’s office.

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Points of Contention

In a press release, AirDNA pointed out one of the errors included in Stringer’s report stemmed from mistaking every unique listing ever uploaded onto Airbnb’s website as the number of listings active in that given year. This fails to account for the fact that a large number of Airbnb’s listings are inactive for long periods, if not indefinitely, and these inactive listings could not have impacted New York City’s rent prices.

“All Airbnb listing types—entire homes, private rooms and shared rooms—are included in the comptroller’s listing count. When a host lists their private room or a shared room on Airbnb, they are not removing a home from the residential housing market. To conflate these listing types is totally misguided and misrepresents New Yorkers that rent out a spare bedroom to supplement their income, or help pay their mortgage,” AirDNA stated in the release.

Another error pointed out in AirDNA’s press release is the assumption made by the comptroller that if an Airbnb rental is listed on the site for just one night a year it has the same effect on the rental housing market as a full-time, professionally managed listing. The site’s data shows that more than half of the Airbnb listings in the city were rented for roughly one to three months in 2017, meaning they were most likely seasonal or part-time rentals as opposed to professional operations.

AirDNA also stated that the company sees a “totally different picture of the presence of Airbnb in New York City,” maintaining that 65 percent of properties listed on Airbnb are managed by hosts with just one listing and that many of these hosts are families trying to earn extra money in a location where rent prices continue to rise.

“AirDNA fully supports Airbnb in condemning the comptroller’s analysis,” Scott Shatford, CEO of AirDNA, said in the statement. “The comptroller is once again using Airbnb as a scapegoat for a housing affordability crisis that has been growing for decades. In New York City, just over 5,300 entire homes were rented on Airbnb for six months or more in the past year, representing 0.2 percent of the total housing supply—it is impossible for Airbnb to have a material impact on rental prices.”

If there were any questions as to whether or not Stringer was likely to backpedal on his report, a tweet released earlier this morning shows him doubling down on the findings of his report. On a call this morning, Chris Lehane, head of global policy and public affairs at Airbnb, continued to criticize the report. Lehane said Airbnb sent a letter to Stringer’s office this morning requesting information on the report, and he maintained that Airbnb has had no material impact on rents in New York City, and even implied that the company’s own data shows more than 70 percent of its hosts in the city depend on Airbnb to pay their rent.

This sort of analysis is to be expected from a company feeling pressure from local government, but there are still kinks Airbnb must iron out before can be entirely absolved of its effect on a city’s economy. For one, the economics around allowing Airbnb to operate out of rent-stabilized and rent-controlled housing remains debatable, but legislation proposed in Albany, N.Y., may have an answer by developing a registration system for prospective Airbnb operators. In this way, the legality of a rental can never established, and rules for operation can be disclosed ahead of time.

“We have previously filed a Freedom of Information Law Request we hope will ultimately answer these questions, but there is no reason for New Yorkers to wait,” Lehane said. “The comptroller can and should provide answers to the questions today, right now.”

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