EU blocks cities’ efforts to curb Airbnb, activists say | European Union

Explosive rise in Airbnb vacation rentals for short stays may be preventing locals from housing and moving to another neighborhood across Europe, but cities’ efforts to end it are hampered by politicians of the EU aimed at promoting the “sharing economy”, according to activists.

“It’s pretty clear,” said Kenneth Haar, author of UnfairBnB, a study published this month by the Brussels campaign group Observatory for Business Europe. “Airbnb is under great pressure locally across Europe, and they are trying to use the top down power of European institutions to fight back.”

Although it may have started out as a “community” of amateur hosts offering spare rooms or temporarily vacant accommodations to travelers, Airbnb had experienced triple-digit growth in several European cities since 2014 and was now a large and powerful company with the lobbying weight to match. , said Haar.

The platform lists around 20,500 addresses in Berlin, 18,500 in Barcelona, ​​61,000 in Paris and nearly 19,000 in Amsterdam. Data collected by the campaign group Inside Airbnb suggests that in these and other tourist sites more than half – sometimes up to 85% – of the ads are for entire apartments.

Many properties are also rented year-round, removing tens of thousands of units from the residential rental market. Even in cities where short-term rentals are now limited, around 30% of Airbnb listings are available for three months or more per year, the data shows. In those where they are not, such as Rome and Venice, the figure exceeds 90%.

“You can still find the retiree renting out her spare bedroom for a little extra money,” Haar said. “But a very large proportion are commercial operators, often with multiple registrations, who earn a lot of money. This clearly has an impact on residents’ access to affordable housing, and it is quite difficult to see it as a sharing economy.

Airbnb denies that its operations have a significant impact on residential rents, and speculation and poor social housing supply certainly play a role. But cities are mobilizing more and more: after a 50% increase in unregulated tourist rentals was accompanied by a 40% increase in residential rents, Palma de Mallorca voted last month ban almost all ads from Airbnb and similar platforms such as HomeAway.

In Paris, registration for short-term rentals is now compulsory; Barcelona suspended all new short-term rental permits; Amsterdam has reduced its authorized short-term rental limit from two to one month per year; and Berlin brought back old laws and adapted them to new circumstances.

But local attempts to protect residents’ access to affordable housing and preserve the face of inner-city neighborhoods are undermined, activists say, by the EU’s determination to view the ‘collaborative economy’ as a future key driver of innovation and job creation around the world. block.

“The commission seems almost hypnotized by the prospect of a strong sharing economy, and not really interested in its negative consequences,” Haar said. “The commissioners speak of ‘opportunities, not threats’. Parliament also recently condemned attempts by cities to restrict rentals on online platforms.

Since some fifty platforms, led by Airbnb, urged the commission two years ago to ensure that “local laws do not unnecessarily limit the development of the collaborative economy to the detriment of Europeans”, two key directives of the EU, on e-commerce and services, had been clarified – largely in favor of the industry, Haar said.

Airbnb welcomed the guidance, saying the commission tries to provide “clear, simple and consistent” rules that “remove barriers for ordinary people benefiting from innovations like Airbnb.”

More worrying for activists such as Haar, a formal complaint against Barcelona, ​​Berlin, Paris and Brussels filed by the European Vacation Home Association, of which Airbnb and HomeAway are core members, alleges “overzealous rules and restrictions / bans »In violation of EU laws. If not resolved by the Commission and Member States, the complaint could end up in the European Court of Justice.

“Cities have to respond to local pressures and they somehow have to regain the legal space to do so,” Haar said. “Brussels decision-makers seem far removed from local realities. If we are to defend our right to affordable housing, this battle must be fought now.

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