Top destinations crack down on Airbnb, others
29 AUGUST 2014 10:34 AM
Airbnb and similar peer-to-peer booking platforms are under increased scrutiny in some of Europe’s top tourist destinations.
GLOBAL REPORT—Municipal authorities and hotel associations in some of Europe’s top tourist destinations are warning hosts using Airbnb and similar “sharing-economy” websites to toe the line on local laws affecting the hospitality sector. Such platforms allow private individuals to rent out unused rooms, apartments or houses to other travelers.
London, Berlin and Amsterdam are among the destinations cracking down. The latter earlier this year allowed short-term accommodations to be booked through such websites under certain circumstances in a law the Dutch press described as “Airbnb friendly.”
“Amsterdam is a hospitable city (and) is keen to create leeway for residents looking to occasionally rent out their own property to city visitors,” according to a statement by the municipal authorities released after new rules were imposed at the beginning of the year.
“However, such practices are only permitted if the guidelines are followed to ensure that holiday rental is conducted safely and honestly without causing nuisance.”
The guidelines stipulate:
- Owners can rent out a property only if they are the registered principal occupier.
- If a property is rented out for more than 60 days each year it will be considered a commercial activity, which is not permitted unless it is a legal bed & breakfast establishment.
- Renters are required to pay a tourist tax on earnings on holiday rental income.
- The property must comply with fire and safety regulations.
- Operators are not permitted to rent out their properties to more than four people at a time.
- Guests staying in a property should not cause any form of nuisance to others living in the area.
In London, the legal and policy director at the British Hospitality Association, Jackie Grech, told HNN the association had cautioned website renters to adhere to safety requirements and maintain proper hospitality standards.
“We want everyone to enjoy British hospitality. With that in mind, our concerns are around guests, communities and the product we as a sector are providing to consumers. … Every consumer should be assured that regardless of whom they choose to purchase accommodation from in the U.K., that they will receive the same standards of protection from unnecessary risk,” she said.
“We welcome new models of hospitality with the hope that they encourage tourism, but not by putting the community or visitors at risk,” she added.
Illegal in London
In London it is illegal to rent out one’s own home for a period of fewer than 90 days without planning permission, Grech said. However, with 13,000 Airbnb listings, the British capital is the country’s biggest market, according to a recent article in the British daily, The Guardian.
“More than 6,600 are leasing out an entire home or flat, rather than a spare room. More than 1,500 people listing properties on the site have multiple listings, with 180 listing five or more properties or rooms across London,” the paper reported.
These “semi-professional landlords” were causing concern among London hoteliers, The Guardian noted. “Our experience from (hoteliers) is that it isn’t exactly affecting business per se, it’s more a reputational and safety issue at the moment,” Grech responded.
A housing law that went into effect in Berlin in May restricts permission to rent vacation lodgings in some of the German capital’s most desired districts.
The law is designed to “conserve the city’s housing stock as accommodation becomes increasingly scarce” and prohibits the regular short-term renting of rooms without a green light from Berlin officials, the Financial Times reported.
Cracking down in Catalonia
Government officials in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia have been the first in Europe to go after the websites. In July, they fined Airbnb €30,000 ($40,700) for renting unlicensed vacation accommodations.
If the websites do not obey local laws covering such rentals, the Catalonian authorities threatened to shut them down. Regional capital Barcelona is one of Airbnb’s top rental destinations where travelers can pick from 14,000 listings on the U.S.-based website.
At a news conference, Jordi Clos, the president of the Barcelona Hotel Association, claimed that while there were some 8,800 legally-registered short-term apartment rentals in the city, the number of illicit properties was double that figure.
The association has set up a department to track down illegal tourism rentals about which it informs the authorities. Clos said it had so far identified more than 700 unregistered apartments or houses in the city.
But one Spanish chain argued that Airbnb and its ilk were not a major concern to its two properties in Barcelona, the Room Mate Emma and the Room Mate Pau, which generally cater to younger guests—the same demographic attractive to website renters.
“Airbnb and the other sites are not competition for us as these rentals can’t offer the same service as Room Mate, such as 24-hour reception, daily cleaning, etc.,” said Yeyo Ballesteros, the group’s head of communications.
“The Emma and the Pau are two best performers in Spain and have an average monthly occupancy of over 90%, so these websites are not seen as a threat,” he added.
French hotel group Accor, which operates several low-cost brands in popular European cities, declined to comment on the issue, while an InterContinental Hotels Group representative said no executives were available to answer questions.