Judge considers whether to allow Hawaii to subpoena Airbnb

HONOLULU — A judge was scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday on whether Hawaii tax authorities may subpoena Airbnb for records of its hosts as part of an investigation into whether operators of vacation rentals have been paying their taxes.

Airbnb has already agreed to give the state records for thousands of Hawaii hosts, provided First Circuit Court Judge Bert Ayabe approves the subpoena.

Airbnb, after negotiating with the state Department of Taxation, said it will provide records of 1,000 Hawaii hosts who received the most revenue from 2016 through 2018.

The company will provide data for hosts who had more than $2,000 in annual revenue during those years, but the identities will remain anonymous. The state may then request individual records for these hosts, though it will be able to obtain information on only 500 hosts every two weeks.

If a host files a legal motion challenging the transfer of records, Airbnb won’t provide the state with the data until the legal case is resolved.

The state needs the court’s permission to serve the subpoena because its investigation targets a group of taxpayers and not specific individuals.

The state’s petition for the subpoena said its initial investigations found 70.4% of Hawaii listings on Airbnb’s website in April didn’t include tax identification numbers in violation of Hawaii law.

The state first sought to subpoena tax records from Airbnb last year when it asked a judge to order the company to hand over a decade of vacation rental receipts. But First Circuit Court Judge James Ashford denied the motion.

The state filed a new petition in June seeking approval for a revised subpoena. The department and Airbnb began negotiations after the second petition was filed.

Audrey McAvoy, The Associated Press