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In the Guardian (a British newspaper), there is a question and answer about a landlord whose tenant sublet their apartment with AirBnB. This was contrary to their lease. The tenant also fell into rent arrears with the Landlord. Could the Landlord sue AirBnB to obtain AirBnBs 'share' of the sublet fees?

Whilst AirBnB doubtless tries to prevent this in their TnCs, the landlord has no relationship with them, so (I believe) would not be subject to those. And they are certainly making money from an illegal(?) sublet (i.e. their percentage of the fees guests pay), so they are being enriched by illegal(?) or at least illicit activities.

I understand the answer is always 'yes' in 'can I sue X for y' questions (however your chances of success may be so low as to make the attempt silly), so my question is more would attempting to sue AirBnB be a 'good' legal case? Is there any precedent here, or at least a moderate chance of success?

Perhaps to relate to the original case, the answer for the English legal system would be good, but I am interested in any jurisdictions.

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  • The first paragraph is a little confusing. From the article, it appears that a landlord, L, let an apartment to tenant, T. T then sublet the apartment (via AirBnB) to (presumably many) subtenants S, even though subletting was prohibited by T's contract with L. Apr 16 at 8:04
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    I've slightly reworded the first paragraph. Hopefully this is clearer. Apr 16 at 16:27

1 Answer 1

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There are two conceivable causes of action at first glance, but which on closer examination do not seem viable: unjust enrichment and tortious interference with economic relations.

Unjust enrichment requires showing (1) an enrichment; (2) a corresponding deprivation; and (3) the absence of a juristic reason for the enrichment. It is doutful the landlord could make out the correspondance between Airbnb's enrichment and the landlord's deprivation. Even if that hurdle is met, Airbnb has a juristic reason for its enrichment: the contract with the guests and the host/tenant.

Absent a statutory overlay, the contract is not "illegal" in the sense that would void a contract. The host/tenant can enter into contracts with conflicting obligations. Further, it is not even clear the contract with the landlord and the contract with Airbnb are in conflict. The contract with the landlord prohibits a sublet. The contract with Airbnb allows Airbnb to collect certain payment to Airbnb if the host/tenant hosts someone through the Airbnb platform. The existence of the Airbnb contract does not require the host/tenant to break their contract with their landlord. (And again, even if it did, this is a problem for the host/tenant — to choose which of their promises to keep.)

The second potential avenue, tortious interference with economic relations, will not be successful absent a showing that Airbnb intentionally injured the landlord's economic interests. The scenario you describe does not suggest Airbnb was even aware of the relationship between the tenant and the landlord.

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    Hmmm; try tresspassing the AirBnB guests. Watch the fireworks.
    – Joshua
    Apr 15 at 19:07
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    @Joshua what does "tresspassing the AirBnB guests" mean? Apr 16 at 7:21
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    I fully agree with the argument in the second paragraph but the one in the third seems odd. The contract between Airbnb and the tenant definitely requires that the tenant is allowed to host guests in the apartment for pay which in this case the tenant is not. So the tenant cannot simultaneously fulfill their contracts to the landlord and Airbnb. Still doesn't create any obligations of Airbnb to the landlord.
    – quarague
    Apr 16 at 7:30
  • @StrangerToKindness my guess is they mean to be at the apartment and evict every AirBnB guest for trespassing (optionally with aid of the police)
    – Hobbamok
    Apr 16 at 8:39
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    If that is @Joshua's intended meaning it seems wrong. A landlord has no ability to decree who is trespassing in their tenant's home, particularly not against the wishes of the tenant. On the contrary, the tenant could request the police remove a trespassing landlord harassing their guests. The landlords recourse is to evict the tenant. Only once a possession order has been granted would there be any possible trespassing.
    – MJeffryes
    Apr 16 at 10:48

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