“I’m a foreigner in my own city”: Prague attacks Airbnb to stem the flow of tourists | Airbnb

For decades, its fascinating mix of Baroque and Gothic beauty was closed to mass tourism by the Iron Curtain that divided the Communist East from the Capitalist West during the Cold War.

Now Prague, which has gained an unenviable reputation as a destination for stag parties and pub crawls, has become the latest European city to offer a radical assault on Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms. run as overtourism threatens to overwhelm and drive it away. residents.

According to the plans of the liberal city mayor, Zdeněk Hřib, landlords would not be allowed to rent entire apartments unless it was their own house and they were temporarily leaving it. Rather, tourists requiring Airbnb rentals would be limited to single rooms in accommodation where the owner also lived.

Speaking to Observer in his office at Prague’s New Town Hall – near the heart of the tourist district – Pirate Party member Hřib said the idea was at the center of a project to “give Prague back to the people of Prague” and mitigate the negative effects of tourism.

He said the growth of Airbnb transformed the city, once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire and later a jewel of the Habsburg monarchy, into a “distributed hotel” and that failure to regulate it “was eating the city of inside “.

“In the past, you could limit the number of tourists to the city just by approving a certain number of hotels of a certain capacity during the building permit process,” Hřib said. “Now in Prague there is no possibility for the city to limit the accommodation capacity for tourists. The numbers are really critical.

Nearly 8 million tourists flocked to the city – a total population of 1.3 million – in 2018, up from 2.6 million in 2000, numbers that are expected to continue to rise and to which Prague’s infrastructure and finances are struggling. equipped to cope.

The increase accelerated as Airbnb consolidated its presence, transforming previously sleepy residential neighborhoods into bustling areas characterized by foreign visitors with telltale wheeled suitcases in residential blocks.

An impact report from the city’s planning and development institute indicates that the number of Airbnb outlets has almost tripled, from 5,537 in March 2016 to more than 13,000 in May 2018, representing a jump from 17,913 to 52,738 in the number of beds. Eighty percent of the rentals available are entire apartments.

The result has been increased noise and disruption for long-term residents and a surge in property values ​​and rents that have excluded residents from the housing market. An average Prague resident has to pay 14 times their annual salary excluding taxes, housing, food and clothing costs to buy an apartment in the city, the mayor said.

Meanwhile, the council has faced a growing financial deficit, as the nominal local tax levied on homeowners, some of whom live outside the Czech Republic, is often not paid and does not cover the costs of the pressure. growing on resources and services.

Zdeněk Hřib, the mayor of Prague, said Airbnb had excluded the premises from the housing market. Photograph: CTK / Alamy

“It’s way beyond the original idea of ​​the shared economy where you’re supposed to let a tourist stay in your home, cook breakfast and tell them about your beautiful city,” Hřib said. “This is just a distributed hotel, where you abuse the comfort of the other citizens of the city, the local residents, and seek your own profit at their expense.”

The European Court of Justice recently ruled that platforms like Airbnb are “information society services” rather than real estate agencies, making them more difficult to regulate.

Hřib plans to overcome this problem by persuading the Czech Ministry of Regional Development to support legislation allowing local authorities to issue their own laws and decrees on short-term vacation rentals depending on local conditions. Similar efforts have failed in the past, but the mayor insists that growing awareness of the Prague problem has generated enough political support for a law to be passed.

“The best way would be to regulate Airbnb in a way that preserves the original idea of ​​a shared economy,” he said. “This means that renting a room in your house would still be possible. However, it would not be possible to rent an entire apartment that is not inhabited, or at least [lease] throughout the year.

Apolena Rychlíková, filmmaker and journalist who campaigned against the unbridled growth of short-term rentals, welcomed the city council’s proposal, “after five years of ignoring the problem”. She added: “As a resident of central Prague, I feel like an outsider every day in my city. And I am not alone.

Janek Rubeš, a creator of Honest guide, a YouTube channel documenting the effects of overtourism in Prague, said the evolution of Airbnb had hurt neighborhoods in the city. “These Prague buildings are not made for tourism. Tourists have different needs than locals, ”he said.

“They need a 24-hour reception, where they can enter buildings when they need it. It doesn’t work like that on Airbnb. It was a great idea at first, but it’s not what it is now. “

Prague is not alone in its position against Airbnb. Last month, the council joined with 10 other cities – Amsterdam, Barcelona, ​​Berlin, Bordeaux, Brussels, Krakow, Munich, Paris, Valencia and Vienna – in signing a letter calling on the European Commission to update its laws. “These short-term rentals are primarily intended for tourists to the detriment of residents and families who wish to live and work in our cities,” the letter said.

Some cities have placed their own limits on the platform and similar outlets. In January 2019, Amsterdam tightened its rules on renting entire homes to less than 30 days, instead of 60 days.

In Palma, Mallorca, authorities went further by banning nearly all short-term rentals of Airbnb-style apartments on the island in 2018, after local residents complained of a sharp rise in rents.

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