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Airbnb tried to get a Miami lawsuit against a major landlord thrown out. A judge said no.

An Airbnb host at a Miami City Commission meeting. Denver-based Aimco claims there have been “dozens, if not hundreds” of subleases at its properties in Miami and Miami Beach through Airbnb, a practice that the leases ban and that Aimco believes Airbnb has the power to eliminate — but hasn’t.
An Airbnb host at a Miami City Commission meeting. Denver-based Aimco claims there have been “dozens, if not hundreds” of subleases at its properties in Miami and Miami Beach through Airbnb, a practice that the leases ban and that Aimco believes Airbnb has the power to eliminate — but hasn’t. cguerrero@miamiherald.com

A local case between vacation rental platform Airbnb and one of the nation’s largest residential property landlords, Aimco, will move forward after a Miami judge ruled against throwing the lawsuit out this week.

Aimco sued Airbnb in February 2017 for allegedly failing to stop its users from subletting apartments at three rental buildings in Miami and Miami Beach: The 471-unit Bay Parc Plaza Apartments at 1756 North Bayshore Dr. in Miami, and the 614-unit Flamingo North Tower and 515-unit Flamingo Center Tower at 1508 and 1504 Bay Rd. in Miami Beach, respectively.

Denver-based Aimco claimed there have been “dozens, if not hundreds” of subleases at its properties through Airbnb, a practice banned by the leases at the three condo towers and that Aimco believes Airbnb has the power to eliminate, but hasn’t.

Airbnb has tried to get the case, and another similar one in Los Angeles, dismissed, claiming it is protected under the 1996 Communications Decency Act and therefore not liable for what its hosts post on the platform.

In December, a California federal judge ruled in Airbnb’s favor, ruling that Airbnb hosts — not Airbnb — are responsible for providing the actual listing information. Airbnb “merely provide[s] a framework that could be utilized for proper or improper purposes.” The case was dismissed.

But on Wednesday, a Miami-Dade circuit judge ruled in favor of Aimco instead, saying that Airbnb isn’t immune from every lawsuit that involves third-party content on its site.

“This Court declines to grant immunity simply because Airbnb asserts that it is simply using data initially obtained from third parties,” Judge William L. Thomas ruled. “This Court cannot find, based solely upon the pleadings, that Internet businesses, like Airbnb, are entitled to absolute immunity anytime a lawsuit involves third-party content or website postings.”

According to the lawsuit, Aimco reached out to Airbnb in three separate instances in late 2016 telling the company that multiple short-term rentals were taking place in its buildings in violation of the leases. It claimed Airbnb had the power to remove rentals that were in violation of its Terms of Service, which requires that renters only list properties on the site that “will not breach any agreements with third parties.”

But Airbnb did not remove the rentals at Aimco’s Miami-Dade buildings, which the landlord said were causing disruptions for residents.

Flamingo Towers
Several illegal short-term rentals have taken place at The Flamingo Towers on Bay Road in Miami Beach, according to a lawsuit filed by Aimco against Airbnb. Roberto Koltun rkoltun@elnuevoherald.com

In one instance, a person subletting at a property in one of the Flamingo towers struck a balcony door until he broke the glass, according to the suit. In another, a female resident at the Flamingo towers said a short-term renter followed and harassed her after she complained that the guest was being too noisy. Four Flamingo residents had taken legal action to break their leases because of the Airbnb rentals in the building, the lawsuit claims.

Airbnb spokesman Benjamin Breit called Aimco’s policies “anti-tenant” and said Airbnb expects Aimco to lose its “copycat case in Florida” as it did for the “exact same” claims in California.

“We are confident Airbnb will ultimately prevail in this case, as we did in California, and [Wednesday’s] order does not resolve the case,” Breit said in a statement. “Instead, it finds only that Aimco’s claims cannot be dismissed based solely on the allegations in its complaint.”

Aimco spokeswoman Cindy Lempke said Aimco was pleased with the court’s decision, adding that it doesn’t believe Airbnb is “immune from trespassing at Aimco’s residential communities, for unfair and deceptive business practices, and for the resulting disruption these actions cause for our full-time residents.”

“The Communications Decency Act does not protect Airbnb for its suite of brokerage and support services that facilitate, promote, and consummate short-term rental transactions from which Airbnb profits, and that Airbnb knows are illegal,” Lempke said in a statement. “We want Airbnb to be held accountable for its unauthorized activities so that our residents have a safe and peaceful living environment.”

Aimco’s Miami case will move forward, with the next hearing scheduled for July 23.

Airbnb has been a point of contention in Miami-Dade in the past several years. Residents who use the platform say it helps support them financially, and believe that they should rent their properties as they see fit. Residents who oppose Airbnb and similar sites say the rentals lead to noise, parties, safety concerns and generally depreciate the quality of life in residential neighborhoods.

Miami Beach has all but banned short-term rentals in its residential neighborhoods and imposes $20,000 fines on violators. Miami Beach was sued by a resident last month for its hefty fines. Last year, the city of Miami tried to pass a host of Airbnb regulations but was ultimately blocked. Miami-Dade County passed a set of regulations for resident-hosts in unincorporated Miami-Dade in October 2017.

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH
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