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Airbnb admits to deleting questionable listings just before releasing rental data

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What's worse, many of the bad actors have reportedly returned to the platform

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Airbnb renters apparently weren’t the only one cleaning house before guests arrived — the company did the same last year just one month prior to publishing listings data. In a letter addressed to New York state legislators and Airbnb users on Wednesday, the company admitted to slashing thousands of New York City listings before it released numbers on rental activity in the Big Apple .

Throughout November, Airbnb cut roughly 1,500 of the over 37,000 listings in New York City, an effort to "remove listings that appeared to be controlled by commercial operators and did not reflect Airbnb’s vision for our community," Josh Meltzer, the company’s head of public policy in New York, wrote in the letter.

Airbnb removed over 1,500 New York City listings last November

In December 2015, Airbnb made its data public in a bid to be more open and transparent. At the time, the company said 95 percent of its New York City hosts had only one listing. City officials had already accused the platform of helping commercial users rake in the big bucks and keeping potential long-term housing out of a market that was desperately in need of it. Regulators had been red flagging multiple listings by one owner and entire home listings — illegal as per New York City law.

When it released its data, Airbnb said its numbers contradicted regulators claims. But examined more closely by The Vergethey actually backed up most of what New York's attorney general accusations. It showed there had been a problem, and that there had been improvement.

Watchdog Inside Airbnb also noticed this, and later accused the company of sweeping concerns under the rug, cutting unfavorable listings to make themselves look better. Airbnb's had its defense ready: it blamed Halloween weekend and a busy marathon for the spike. But was that defense even necessary? If Airbnb was cracking down on illegal hotels, wasn't that a good thing?

Making room for lower cost and higher availability of permanent housing

The company disclosed that out of 622 hosts that were impacted, 60 percent had two or more listings removed. "We released our Community Compact and made clear that we were serious about tackling affordable housing issues. We took action and the data shows that our community continues to change for the better. We've removed listings before and we won't hesitate to do so again," Nick Pappas, a company spokesperson, told The Verge via email.

Pappas quote gets to the real issue: whether Airbnb temporarily cleaned up just to improve its data, or if it will continue to aggressively police its listings. "In New York City, where housing prices and availability are a critical issue, we want to work with our community and policymakers to help prevent short-term rentals from impacting the availability and cost of permanent housing for city residents," Meltzer wrote. But according to Bloomberg many of the units that were scrubbed off the site actually made their way back between November 20th and January 1st.