A new rule, the only one of its kind in a major European city, bans short-term private room rentals, adding fuel to the debate about how to control the booming preendemic tourism.
It’s been a busy summer for Lucas Ezequiel Hernandez, a 29-year-old designer who lives with his brother in central Barcelona. In June, he listed the spare bedroom in his apartment on Airbnb, and for more than two months, it has hosted a steady stream of tourists for 40 euros, or about $47, per night. But by late August, weeks after a new ban on short-term, private room rentals went into effect, he was reconsidering his options.
“I think I’m going to cancel the reservations I have,” said Mr Hernandez, who said he used his rental earnings to help fund his launch. fashion brand. “I might have problems renting on Airbnb, so I guess I’m not going to do it anymore.”
The ban, which took effect on 6 August, distinguishes Barcelona as the only major city in Europe to prohibit short-term private room rentals, even allowing entire apartments to be rented out. Lets – as long as the owner of the property has the appropriate license.
The rule adds fuel to Barcelona’s already heated debate over how to support the local economy and protect residents’ quality of life after a rapid increase in tourism in the decade before the pandemic hit. Critics say the housing crackdown has resulted in unreasonably heavy fines for hosts and cut off an important source of income for many residents. But the city government says restricting private tourist accommodation is one of the few effective tools it can deploy to curb excessive tourism and address the city’s housing problems.
“We are very happy that people come to Barcelona and enjoy Barcelona because we love our city and we want to share it – but we need rules and we need balance,” Janet Sainz, Barcelona The Deputy Mayor of and the driving force behind this action. “People in Barcelona can still rent a room for a year to a student coming from abroad,” she said. “But for less than 31 days, this is such a difficult market to regulate, from now on, we have to stop it.”
Airbnb said its rents do not hurt the city, and half of its hosts in Barcelona depend on income to pay their bills and live in their homes.
“In Barcelona, the absence of clear rules for hosts sharing a room in their home has no impact on our business, but we are concerned about the negative impacts City Hall offers on local families,” said Airbnb. Policy chief Patrick Robinson said. for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “We are confident that we can work better with the authorities going forward.”
the beginning of a problem
Forty years ago, Barcelona was not high on the list of must-see cities with the most tourists in Europe. But that changed after the city hosted the Summer Olympics in 1992: a major public investment in beautifying the city came with a prominent position on the global stage. A new “destination” was born.
Attracted by the city’s museums, restaurants, architecture and Mediterranean coastline, tourists arrived from all over Europe and the world. As of 2019, Barcelona – a city of about 1.6 million – registered Over 21.3 million overnight stays, more than double the 2005 figure. And that’s not even counting the more than three million cruise ship passengers that passed through the city’s port that year.
When Airbnb arrived in 2009, Barcelona had no specific rules governing private rentals for tourists, but interest in the service was clear: by mid-2016, Airbnb’s Barcelona section had both private rooms and entire apartments. had about 20,000 lists. Data from Inside Airbnb, which tracks listings in cities around the world. The hosts in Barcelona were operating in a kind of “grey market” in those early years of development: it was not explicitly legal, nor was it explicitly forbidden.
But as the number of tourists grew, so did the understanding among many in Barcelona that the city was close to its potential for visitors. In the summer of 2014, anti tourism Protest The Barcelona neighborhood exploded, where locals were dismayed by the noisy and raucous behavior of visitors to the party. anti tourism graffiti sprouts, sometimes Popular tourist destinations, and in 2017, a group of left-wing activists ransacked an open-top bus full of tourists. Many residents as well as in some city halls — Pointed finger at Airbnb.
“For a long time, tourism was seen as nothing but a positive thing for the city, but now we are all starting to feel the effects,” said Barcelona-based architect and co-founder Mar Santamaria Varas . 300,000 km/s, an urban planning agency. With regard to tourist accommodation, he said his analysis revealed three main problems: gentrification, overcrowding in public places, and the disappearance of corner shops and other retailers that are essential to residents.
Airbnb says that private room rentals have little or no effect on local housing availability, as people who rent private rooms stay in the same property. but one Study A study published last year in the Journal of Urban Economics found that Airbnb activity increased rents by 7 percent and housing prices by 17 percent in Barcelona, where the platform has the highest level of activity. In the average neighborhood, rents increased by 1.9 percent and housing prices increased by 4.6 percent.
a new era
The 2015 election of Ada Colau as mayor of Barcelona marked a turning point in the city’s relationship with tourism, marking the beginning of the first real efforts to regulate short-term rentals. Already famous in Spain for her work fighting housing evictions, the left-wing Ms. Collau took a much harder line on tourism than her predecessor. Under his leadership, City Hall banned new tourist licenses for the rental of entire apartments; launched a major crackdown on illegal apartment listings; banned the construction of new hotels in the city center; and introduced neighborhood-specific rules to regulate the establishment of souvenir shops and other businesses that cater to tourists.
But in another way the hands of the city were tied. Legally speaking, the Kolau administration could not revoke the nearly 10,000 tourist licenses that the previous administration had issued for renting out entire apartments, said Ms Sanz, the deputy mayor. At the same time, the rules governing both Barcelona airport and port – which is the largest cruise ship port in the Mediterranean Sea – remain outside the jurisdiction of the City Hall.
But so-called house-sharing – the rent of a room inside a house – remained unregulated, and thus became a target for the city’s tourism control measures. In fact, as the crackdown on illegal listings intensified, the Barcelona market was moving away from entire apartments to private rooms.
According to data from Inside Airbnb, the number of private room listings in Barcelona surpassed whole home listings for the first time in 2017. As of August 8 of this year, two days after short-term private room rentals took effect, 45 percent of Barcelona’s more than 16,000 active Airbnb listings were for private rooms. When a journalist contacted 20 of these hosts to request a one-week tourist stay in their private room rental – which would be illegal under current law – within a day, half of the hosts accepted the reserve’s invitation. replied with .
enforce the rules
Airbnb’s Mr Robinson said the company has cooperated with the city in regulating activity on its platform. He said it required Airbnb to allow certain personal details — including their name, address and national identification number — to be shared with officials, and added that Airbnb had been working with City Hall. More than 7,000 rule breakers have been removed due to the support of
“Airbnb has always reminded hosts to follow local regulations before listing on the platform,” Mr Robinson said. “We also provide hosts with clear information about the latest regulation in Spain.”
As far as the ban on short-term private room rentals is concerned, Airbnb questioned whether the regulation affected rentals for business travelers or other types of non-tourist visitors, adding that it was not necessary for the company to It was impossible to distinguish between the guests. But a company spokesperson said Airbnb would remove any private room listings from the platform if City Hall officially requested it to do so.
Ms Sanz stressed that there are no exceptions to the law, including business travelers. He said the city is gathering the necessary information to make its official eviction request for short-term private room rentals.
More broadly, Ms Sainz said, one of City Hall’s biggest complaints with Airbnb is that the company continues to allow new hosts of apartments to declare themselves “exempt” from the law, requiring them to A tourist license is required, without being asked to provide them. Any evidence to this effect. She said Airbnb has removed illegal listings that sometimes reappear on the platform a few days later. He worries that the same will happen with room rentals.
“This is a big problem that we have right now, and we have been dealing with it with Airbnb for the past several years,” said Ms. Sainz. She said such problems have put tremendous pressure on City Hall, which now spends 2 million euros a year inspecting Airbnb listings and enforcing the city’s rules on home-sharing and tourist apartment rentals.Ms. . Sanz said the city has found that many of the hosts are professionals who are “speculating” on the housing market, not individuals meeting their basic needs.
Data from Inside Airbnb shows that, as of August 8, 27 percent of Barcelona’s private rooms were in a portfolio of three or more private rooms, while 54 percent of private rooms were offered by hosts who only had one listing. Airbnb disputed these numbers.
“This data is flawed. Public scraps of our site use false information and flawed methodology to create a misleading impression about our community,” said an Airbnb spokesperson. “As of August 8, 2021, 78 percent of private in Barcelona Room listings were offered by hosts with only one private room listing; 93 percent were offered by hosts with only one or two private rooms listing.”
the host responds
Manel Casals, general manager of the Hotel Association of Barcelona, welcomed the ban, saying that Airbnb “is a concern for cities everywhere” as it deprives local governments of taxes, disrupts residential areas, and deprives them of guests’ rights. fails to ensure adequate health and safety standards. “That would help Barcelona restrict it,” he said, adding that hotels in the city do not consider Airbnb a competitor because they serve a different customer base.
But Airbnb hosts like Martha Ruiz were disappointed by the ban. Ms Ruiz, who lives near Barcelona’s Colcerola Park, stopped taking reservations for short-term guests after the ban went into effect in August.
“I don’t know what they’re doing, why they want to ban it,” said Ms Ruiz, an Airbnb host since 2017. “
José Luis Rodriguez Fried, the legal representative of the Veïns i Amfitrions de Catalunya, a union of nearly 500 Catalonian hosts that has lobbied the government on house-sharing rules, said Barcelona’s ban on short-term private room rentals was “unfair”. and “undemocratic.”
“The paradox is that we have a Barcelona City Council with progressive roots that is sensitive to the problems of the residents and the community, but their response has been …