Prague aims to rein in Airbnb with coronavirus crisis laws

PRAGUE (Reuters) – Prague officials are using the coronavirus crisis to get a better grip on short-term rentals like Airbnb, which they say have crowded out residents in the center of the Czech capital.

Using state of emergency powers in place during the coronavirus pandemic, the lower house of the Czech parliament has accelerated a plan to allow local authorities to better collect taxes and other information on short-term rentals.

Tourists crowding Prague’s cobbled streets and historic squares, often to take advantage of its cheap beer and nightlife, have put pressure on local services.

“This is a tool for the government to regulate Airbnb and short-term rentals,” Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib told Reuters after the measure was approved by the lower house on Wednesday.

“We want to get more information from Airbnb owners about the capacity of their apartments, how they are used, and the fees they receive,” Hrib added.

Landlords will now have to provide information about the location of a property rented through platforms like Airbnb, how often an apartment is rented, the total payment received, and identify the online service used to connect the landlord to the customer.

Just over 9 million tourists visited Prague, which has a population of 1.3 million, in 2019, making it one of Europe’s most popular destinations behind London, Paris and Rome, data shows. from Euromonitor.

One of the most acute problems for residents of Prague is the lack of affordable housing, as many landlords have converted properties into short-term rentals aimed at tourists.

Airbnb listed nearly 12,000 properties in Prague in 2018, according to the Prague Development Institute.

The district encompassing downtown Prague has lost many of its residents as tourism has grown, with a total of 21,556 registered voters in 2017, down from 36,862 in 1990.

With short-term rentals now vacant after the Czech Republic closed its borders to curb the coronavirus outbreak, Hrib said the city now has time to rethink its approach to tourism.

“If we have the ability to regulate Airbnb or similar platforms during days when there are no tourists, that would be beneficial. People would like to live in the city as permanent residents,” Hrib said.

(This story corrects to remove superfluous words, paragraph 10.)

Reporting by Michael Kahn and Robert Muller, editing by Alexander Smith

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