Berlin’s ban on Airbnb short-term rentals upheld by city court | Airbnb

Tourists planning to visit Berlin for a weekend may have to give up the hipster dream of living like a local in a spacious loft and get back into the habit of staying in an old-fashioned hotel room.

Airbnb and other short-term rental companies face a bleak future in the German capital after the city’s administrative court confirmed on Wednesday a de facto ban on short-term rentalsin a landmark decision that could inspire similar restrictions in cities across Europe.

Under the ban, in place since May 1, people who let more than 50 per cent of their flats short-term without a city permit risk a €100,000 (£78,000) fine.

Owners will still be able to rent individual rooms as long as they use at least half of the apartment for themselves. Home swapping, where two parties agree to swap apartments for a period of time, will also not be affected by the ban.

The city senate has set up a website where users can give anonymous information about Airbnb usage, and officials in working-class neighborhoods such as Mitte have announced they will reject 95% of permit applications.

The senate believes that the ban, known as Zweckentfremdungsverbot or “misuse ban”, will help reclaim short-term holiday apartments for the rental market amid rising house prices and growing housing shortages.

The four property managers who jointly filed the first legal complaint against the ban argued that the law was unconstitutional because it restricted their professional freedom.

But the judge who dismissed the complaint said: “The fundamental rights of the plaintiffs are not violated by the settlement and are in accordance with the constitution”.

Explaining the verdict, Rautgundis Schneidereit said: “Availability of affordable housing is under serious threat throughout the city of Berlin and regulation is therefore warranted.”

Peter Vida, Wimdu’s chief legal officer, criticized the decision. “The Senate was looking for a scapegoat and now it has found one,” he said. “Over the years the city has failed to build enough housing, and now, just before the local elections, they have found someone to blame.”

With rising rents and a population that grew by 80,000 last year, commercialized flatsharing has become a highly politicized issue in Berlin.

According to estimates by the city senate, portals like Airbnb, Wimdu and 9apartments registered between 10,000 and 14,000 apartments in Berlin – almost as many as the city builds on average each year.

While Airbnb said up to 20,000 Berliners rented their apartments through its website in 2015, welcoming a total of half a million visitors, the company would have almost halved its registrations in Berlin in anticipation of the new law.

The historic decision comes just a week after the European Commission warned governments that bans on ‘sharing economy’ services such as Uber or Airbnb should only be used as a “last resort”.

Taxi app Uber suspended services in Hamburg, Frankfurt and Dusseldorf last year after a German court banned the company from operating services using unlicensed taxi drivers, although the service is running still in Munich and Berlin.

But Berlin’s decision on Airbnb could set a precedent for similar bans not only in popular German cities like Hamburg, Munich or Freiburg, but also in other European cities where the company faces growing political opposition, such as Barcelona and Paris.

Gracia Vara Arribas, a lawyer who has advised the EU on the sharing economy, told Reuters: “Cities are watching each other closely to see what kinds of regulations are possible and the Berlin verdict will surely have an impact on the behavior of other cities”.

This article was last modified on June 9, 2016. An earlier version stated that peer-to-peer vacation rental companies, including Airbnb and Berlin-based Wimdu had jointly filed the first legal complaint against the ban; it was in fact filed by four trustees. The spelling of Rautgundis Schneidereit’s name has also been corrected.

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