Prague aims to restrict Airbnb to curb overtourism

For decades, its fascinating blend of Baroque and Gothic beauty was closed off to mass tourism by the Iron Curtain that separated the communist east from the capitalist west during the Cold War.

Today, Prague, which has earned an unenviable reputation for a destination for bachelor parties and pub crawlsbecame the latest European city to come up with a sweeping assault on Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms like overtourism threatens to overwhelm and drive out the inhabitants.

Under plans pushed by the city’s liberal mayor, Zdeněk Hřib, landlords would not be allowed to rent out entire apartments except when it was their own home and they were temporarily vacating it. Tourists requesting Airbnb rentals would instead be limited to individual rooms in accommodations where the owner also lived.

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

He said Airbnb’s growth had transformed the city, once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire and later the jewel of the Habsburg Monarchy, into a “distributed hotel” and that the inability to regulate it was to “eat the city from within”.

“In the past, you could limit the number of tourists in the city simply 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 – total population, 1.3 million – in 2018, up from 2.6 million in 2000, a number which is expected to continue to rise and to which Prague’s infrastructure and finances are ill-equipped to cope.

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

An impact report from the city’s planning and development institute says the number of Airbnb outlets nearly 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 available rentals are entire apartments.

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

In the meantime, the council has faced a growing financial shortfall, as the nominal local tax levied on landlords, some of whom live outside the Czech Republic, often goes unpaid and does not cover the costs of the growing pressure on the resources and services.

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

The European Court of Justice recently ruled that platforms like Airbnb were “information society services” rather than real estate agencies, which makes 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 enact their own laws and decrees on short-term vacation rentals depending on local conditions. Similar efforts have failed before, but the mayor insists that growing awareness of the Prague problem generated enough political support for legislation to be passed.

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

Apolena Rychlíková, a filmmaker and journalist who has campaigned against the rampant 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 a stranger in my city every day. And I’m not alone.

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

“They need a 24-hour reception, where they can enter the buildings when they need to. It doesn’t work that way on Airbnb. It was a great idea at first, but that’s no longer the case today. »

Prague is not alone in opposing Airbnb. Last month, the council joined 10 other cities – Amsterdam, Barcelona, ​​Berlin, Bordeaux, Brussels, Krakow, Munich, Paris, Valencia and Vienna – to sign a letter calling on the European Commission to update its laws. “These short-term rentals are primarily for tourists at the expense of locals and families who want to live and work in our cities,” the letter says.

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

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

This article was written by Robert Tait of The Guardian and has been legally authorized by the NewsCred network of publishers. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

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