EU considers single rules to regulate vacation rental platforms – TechCrunch

The legislators of the European Union are consultant on how to regulate the short-term rental market across the block – asking if a single pan-European set of rules or something more local is needed to rule platforms like Airbnb.

The Commission says it wants to support an expansion of competition and players in the sector, but also to respect EU law which allows Member States to apply local rules based on public interest concerns.

As it stands, a patchwork of rules and regulations has developed around short-term rental platforms across Europe as cities grapple with the impact of growth overtourism. out of control of Airbnb et al – and also struggle to extract payload from platforms whose business model takes advantage of the reversal of the local housing stock to generate short-term rental gains.

This dynamic triggers the usual concern of the Commission about the fragmentation of the single market. So it’s now ask for advice industry and interested citizens, as it examines whether a sector-specific regulation is needed.

In a summary of its intention for the next Short Term Leasing (STR) initiative, which will be fueled by responses to the public consultation, the Commission writes that its objective is “develop responsible, equitable and reliable growth in short-term rentals, within the framework of a balanced tourism ecosystem” – and “ensure a level playing field for all accommodation providers and meet the many demands of interested parties for EU-wide action in this area ”.

“This will mean offering balanced solutions to cities, peer and professional short-term rental providers and platforms, while benefiting in particular small and medium-sized businesses,” he adds.

The Commission proposed general rules for the digital sector late last year – under the Digital Services Act (DSA) – which it says will level the playing field between online and offline activities. online in areas such as illegal content and goods.

However, the settlement has been criticized for not going far enough to tackle illegal vacation rentals.

In a position paper earlier this year, for example, the holiday accommodation booking platform, Booking.com, wrote that the Commission’s proposal could be more “ambitious” – saying it “insufficiently addresses illegal vacation rentals in short term “.

“The powers of national (or local) authorities to order platforms to remove illegal content (Article 8) and share information (Article 9) is a step in the right direction. However, gaps in the application of the law remain, ”he added. “Where short-term vacation rentals are subject to an authorization / registration regime, platforms should be required to ensure that only properly registered / authorized properties are listed. This is in line with the platforms’ duty of care. “

The Commission is also facing vocal pressure on the issue from heavily touring cities in Europe – which have tried to put limits on the growth of vacation rentals, with mixed success.

Earlier this year, for example, an Amsterdam court overturned a rental ban in three districts on platforms like Airbnb that city authorities instituted after asking local residents about the impacts on their communities.

But this summer, Paris city officials trumpeted winning a major case against Airbnb – which was ordered to pay $ 9.6 million for illegal ads.

European governments have also been pressing the Commission to regulate access to data from holiday rental platforms, the Dutch having suggested last year to include such provisions in the DSA.

The European Parliament also warned that “the exponential growth of short-term vacation rental in cities and popular tourist destinations is pulling accommodation out of the market, pushing up prices and negatively impacting quality of life.” And in a report Last year, MEPs also said: “We want to give cities more control over short-term accommodation rental platforms and ensure that these platforms share information with cities, respecting the rules of Data protection.”

Also last year, the Commission signed a voluntary agreement with a handful of major platforms to disseminate aggregated data. However, the deal goes considerably less than the demands that some European cities have placed on STR platforms operating locally in an attempt to monitor their impacts on communities.

In its consultation on the issue of STRs, the Commission notes that a number of authorities across the EU have taken steps to try to regulate short-term rentals (STRs) – for example by imposing rental requirements. registration and authorization regimes at accommodation providers, and setting limits on the number of nights per year properties can be rented.

“In doing so, certain national rules make a difference between the so-called ‘peers’ occasionally offering STRs in a private capacity and those offering STRs on a more professional basis,” he continues. “The criteria differ, however, and a distinction is not made everywhere between peers and professionals. The authorities have also taken various measures to obtain better data from the platforms, in order to better assess the volume of STRs and to facilitate law enforcement.

“The above has resulted in patchwork of different rules and regulations. “

“Under EU law, the imposition of restrictions and conditions on the provision of a service may be justified if necessary to pursue an objective of legitimate public interest and proportionate to achieve that objective. Despite the important clarifications provided by EU case law, there is still a great deal of uncertainty as to the measures that authorities can adopt and apply with regard to hosting providers and other service providers such as platforms ”, adds the Commission.

“EU horizontal regulatory initiatives such as the Digital Services Act aim to impose harmonized obligations on online platforms, including collaborative economy platforms in the area of ​​STRs. However, in order to foster a balanced development of the STR segment in the EU and to address sector specific aspects, a specific sector initiative may be necessary. “

It is unclear exactly where the Commission will plant its flag on this contentious issue – but its consultation poses a number of questions that stakeholders need to answer in areas such as transparency and access to data, as well as their views on the pros and cons of STR.

The Commission is also seeking suggestions for specific rules and regulations that could be applied to STRs to achieve the desired balance between supporting tourism and respecting the local public interest, including by seeking advice on how best to determine whether an STR host is a “peer” or a professional operator.

Marketing platforms like Airbnb typically make the promise that you are renting unique, characterful spaces to locals, which differentiates the business of vacation rental platforms from more traditional tourist rates like hotels.

However, the reality of these ‘p2p’ platforms is that they quickly attracted a multitude of professional landlords – who could profitably list and rent entire apartments to tourists, instead of renting the accommodation at a lower rate than. residents on long-term contracts. Hence the criticism that STRs are emptying local communities and making city life less affordable for residents.

In a question from the Commission’s public consultation – which asked for opinions on the type of rules and requirements for DOS that “might be acceptable” – it suggests a number of answers, including registration and authorization requirements for all hosts or only for professional hosts; and limits on the number of nights, the amount of revenue generated and the number of rooms that can be rented by peers.

At the end of this list, he also asks for a response to the suggestion of a “total ban on STRs”.

Elsewhere, the consultation seeks views on whether STR rules should be imposed from above (a ‘harmonized EU approach) – or allowed to be entirely bottom-up (left to local authorities to define) or a loosely defined combination of the two.

It’s also about whether there should be different rules for peers and professional hosts – and if so, how best to define who is a peer and who is a professional?

Other consultation questions ask for opinions on measures “which you think could support innovation in RTS and the development of new business models”.

The Commission’s consultation runs until December 13, with the EU executive due to issue a legislative proposal for vacation rentals in the first half of next year.

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