Biarritz removes vacation rentals to make way for locals | France

With its stylish boutiques and stretches of golden sand, the French resort town of Biarritz has long been a popular holiday destination. Wealthier visitors have flocked to the Hotel du Palais, while another crowd comes for the surf and heads inland for some great mountain hikes.

Yet as tourism has boomed, local residents are finding it increasingly difficult to find accommodation. The reason, campaign groups say, is vacation homes. The number of vacation rentals across the French Basque Country has more than doubled to 16,500 between 2016 and 2020. Private rental accommodation is scarce and there is a nearly two-year wait for social housing.

This month, local authorities passed tough new rules to block the development of Airbnb and vacation rentals in 24 towns and villages across the region, including Biarritz.

From June, owners wishing to rent a second home for vacation stays will have to provide an equivalent property to rent year-round in the same town or village. As many landlords will struggle to find and finance a third property that matches the requirements, advocates hope the new rules will bring thousands of apartments back to the rental market.

Strict new rules have blocked airbnb development in Biarritz. Photography: Andrey Khrobostov/Alamy

Maider Arosteguy, the mayor of Biarritz, described the current situation as “untenable”. During the vote, she raised the case of a couple who are going through a separation but are forced to stay in the same accommodation despite cases of domestic violence. She said officials must “find solutions to allow young people and middle incomes to stay and live in the Basque Country”.

The move may help people like Charlotte Belot, a 27-year-old environmental activist. “When I finished my studies, it was impossible to find accommodation,” she said. “So I went back to live with my parents. Later, I found a shared house where the contract ended every June so that the owner could turn it into a tourist apartment for the summer.

“I was lucky enough to be able to go home, but some of my roommates had to rent Airbnbs for two months at summer prices because they had nowhere to go. Finding a place here is really difficult.

Edouard Gruson, director of the Maisons du Sud-Ouest real estate agency, acknowledged that “something had to be done for long-term rentals”, especially for the youngest, and believes that the new rules will have an effect. He estimates that for every long-term rental advertised by the agency, it receives 30 to 40 inquiries. Still, Gruson described the new rules as “too tough”. He understood the desire to target smaller apartments but hopes the rules will be reviewed for larger houses.

The Basque Country is not the first region in France to restrict the development of Airbnb and similar platforms. In some major cities, listings must be registered with the local authority, while primary residences cannot be rented for more than 120 days per year. Paris and Bordeaux are among those that have introduced stricter restrictions, targeting short-term rentals in particular.

The new rules in the Basque Country will affect both existing and future rentals, as licenses must be renewed every three years. Landlords will not be able to convert ground floor commercial premises such as beloved local bakeries into accommodation.

Campaign group Alda described the decision as a “social and ecological victory”, although for it and many others it is still only the start of a process. Some see the need for additional measures on second homes. There are disagreements over whether the measures will harm tourism or improve it by protecting accommodation and local character

Questions also remain over the prospect of landlords simply withdrawing their vacation rentals and putting the properties up for sale. “In that case, they would again be out of reach for those who want to live and work here,” Belot said. “So this new measure is not enough, but it is a start.”

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