European mayors want help from Brussels against Airbnb – POLITICO

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European cities want to take back control of Airbnb – and they want Brussels to help them.

Local leaders from Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin, among other cities, encounter with Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager on Thursday with a message: it’s time to force short-term rental platforms to cooperate with local authorities.

“You can’t have companies trying to get out of the way. They are trying to evade regulation and law enforcement, ”Berlin State Secretary Wenke Christoph said after the meeting.

Cities have long campaigned against Airbnb, arguing that the short-term rental boom is distorting their housing markets by making housing unaffordable and causing other unwanted side effects such as overtourism and anti-social behavior. They also want the platform to help them fight illegal rentals, adding that the lack of data sharing makes it harder for them to tax the short-term rental market.

In December of last year, the Court of Justice of the European Union classified Airbnb as an online platform and not as a real estate company. The move was a blow to authorities who wish to regulate the business more strictly, and means Airbnb does not have to comply with housing laws and is not legally responsible for content and services. illegal hosted on its platforms, such as ads that do not. comply with local laws.

European mayors now see an opportunity in revising a decades-old law governing online platforms, known as the e-commerce directive, to push for more rules and to shift the fight from the local level to the European level.

But Brussels will publish new proposals later this year, called the Digital Services Act, which will also regulate what is called sharing economy platforms like Airbnb and BlaBlaCar.

European mayors now see an opportunity in revising a decades-old law governing online platforms, known as the e-commerce directive, to push for more rules and to shift the fight from the local level to the European level.

“Better cooperation between platforms and public authorities will be a prerequisite for proper enforcement of the digital services law,” Vestager said in a statement after the meeting on Thursday. She added that the rules “will take into account the needs of national and local governments and respect for local rules.

The encounter with Vestager comes amid the acrimony between the towns and the platform. Paris is a major market for Airbnb, but its mayor Anne Hidalgo wants to release the 30,000 odd Airbnb properties for city residents. She wants a referendum on whether to limit the rental period of these properties per year, which she hopes will “encourage owners not to put them on the rental market,” she said. . The Parisian in July.

Christoph from Berlin said the Commission’s attitude towards regulating the sharing economy aligns with that of cities. “It has become quite obvious that the problems we have in Berlin, we see them all over Europe,” she added.

The goal, she said, is to strike a balance between access to affordable housing for locals and accommodation for tourists. “It’s not about stopping short-term rentals. It needs to be regulated so that cities remain livable, ”said Christoph.

The sharing economy, but not the data

One of the main areas of contention is data sharing with local authorities. Cities want DSA requires companies like Airbnb to share information about their hosts, including the addresses of rental apartments as well as the number of days they are rented. They argue that data is needed for cities to know which properties to tax and how much, and to enforce local rental regulations.

Currently, some cities can get a rough idea of ​​the number of apartments rented through the platform by scratching the Airbnb website themselves, said Ans Persoons, the deputy mayor of Brussels. But the system is not ideal.

Without data, cities’ hands are tied, they argue. “We’re seeing a lot of new properties under construction, but we don’t have more people registering or paying taxes, and that means something is wrong,” Persoons said.

An Airbnb spokesperson rebuffed accusations that it does not cooperate with local authorities: “We work with authorities on the basis of clear and simple regulations, drawing on our experiences of working with hundreds from governments and organizations around the world. “

The company has told the Commission it will not hesitate to share data with cities as long as it gets advice on how to comply with Europe’s strict privacy rules. “Whenever data is shared at any level, strong safeguards need to be in place regarding what types of data can be requested, by whom and for what purpose,” Airbnb wrote in commenting on the next DSA.

“We do, however, agree that a solution may be considered for data sharing as part of the host’s income” to facilitate tax collection, the company added.

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