With Trip Leases Empty, European Cities See a Likelihood to Reclaim Housing

LISBON – Long before the onset of coronavirus in Europe this spring, many cities were complaining that the proliferation of shantytowns with airborne travelers through platforms like Airbnb boosting housing costs and destroying historical sites.

As a result of the epidemic hampering travel, many European cities are taking advantage of the opportunity to reintroduce short-lived housing into a multi-year home market.

In Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, the city government becomes a homeowner by renting vacant homes and converting them into serviced houses. In Barcelona, ​​Spain, the housing department is threatening to seize vacant land and will do the same.

Some city governments have enacted or amended new laws to curb the growth of housing that has a negative impact on visitors. Amsterdam has banned holiday rental within the old city; an employee in Berlin warned of a temporary collapse of the platform “trying to break the rules and enforce the rules”; and Paris is preparing for a referendum on Airbnb’s national lists.

Over the years, short-term rental housing has seized homes in many European cities. Lisbon has more than 22,000 Airbnb lists, according to Inside Airbnb, which looks at lists in cities around the world. Barcelona has 18,000, and Paris – one of the largest markets on the platform – has about 60,000.

When there are too many visitors, short-term rental may be more beneficial to owners than long-term, which local authorities say has disrupted housing markets in cities where storage is already difficult. They also oppose online platforms to avoid regulations that have been put in place to protect local markets.

“We will not allow the rental facilities of the people of Paris to be rented out all year round for tourists,” Paris’ deputy mayor Ian Brossat said in a telephone interview. Brossat also said it hoped to reduce the number of days a year available for rental space via a platform like Airbnb – currently 120. He criticized the company for violating the rule.

“Airbnb pretends to respect the law, but it doesn’t,” said Brossat, who has written a book criticizing Airbnb and its impact on cities.

Airbnb denies any wrongdoing, either in Paris or elsewhere. “He established the rules, and we are following the rules,” said Patrick Robinson, Airbnb’s chief of staff for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “If there is a strong debate on the relevant legislation, we are in the process of negotiating, and ultimately with local politics to decide.”

He also said Airbnb provides registration and other information to officials at major tourist destinations such as Lisbon, Paris and Barcelona to help city officials comply with their rules. “We think the best way to use the data is the solution here.” In September, the company launched the City Portal, which is said to give governments access to information that can help identify lists that do not comply with local laws, such as unregistered lists.

A high-profile project is in Lisbon, which has begun signing five-year rents for small rental housing. These are kept at low prices for people who are eligible to receive subsidized housing. The city government has set aside 4 million euros, or about $ 4.7 million, in the first year of funding.

The mayor of the city, Fernando Medina, said: “We have entered the plague with a serious problem in our housing market, and we will not be able to come out with the same plague.” The program is not magic, but can be part of the solution by promoting affordable housing. “

The program aims to attract 1,000 homeowners this year, and has released 200 so far. Medina says she is confident that the plan will achieve its goal, because the recurrence of tourism at any time in the near future seems unlikely to be as serious as the plague.

The initiative has been welcomed by some neighboring organizations who have criticized local politicians for allowing the city to be a tourist destination and for the rich, many of whom were attracted to Portugal with residency permits and tourist taxes after the 2007-8 economic crisis. .

“Coronavirus has helped to expose Portugal’s economic woes, which are driven by the sale of land and tourism instead of focusing on the needs of the local people,” said Luís Mendes, an urban historian who is a member of the Citizens’ Watch Tower Lisbon.

Most of all, Mr. Mendes said, the coronavirus-induced inhibitors show a decline in housing in Lisbon. “How can you be alone without a good home?” he said. “Now we have a city hall that has set up an interesting system and we know that having a roof is a human right.”

However, some homeowners do not consider the city government to be a reliable rental. Portugal, he says, has a history of uncertainty and sudden changes as soon as any law takes effect.

“If you look at the political history in Lisbon, it is hopeless, inefficient and often corrupt,” said Rita Alves Machado, who owns three empty rooms around Lisbon. “The city has a lot of debt everywhere, and I don’t expect them to pay on time or follow their rules.”

Preparing for short-term rental has been a challenge in Europe.

In September, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favor of cities attempting to temporarily suspend their tenure, in agreement with a French court ruling that has legally owned two homes owned by Airbnb. The court ruled in favor of Airbnb last year, stating that it was an online solution and not a real estate company, which would require compliance. The European Commission is taking steps to regulate the platform and others through the Digital Services Act, which seeks to regulate such labor practices in the European Union.

The more the epidemic goes, the more Lisbon-like routes should be attracted, city officials and environmental experts say. In the meantime, Airbnb will be available on the move.

In Lisbon, prices for Airbnb and Vrbo, a small rental facility formerly known as HomeAway, fell by 50% in May since last year, according to AirDNA, which collects holiday rental data.

Miguel Tilli, co-founder of HomeLovers, a Portuguese real estate company, said he booked at least 60 locations a month in Lisbon – almost all of which had previously been rented via Airbnb but were now open to the public.

City rental rates have dropped by 10 percent since the outbreak, but homeowners who had previously allowed goods through Airbnb have not tried to reduce their rent.

“Most homeowners act as if Covid is someone else’s problem,” Tilli said. “This cannot last forever.”

Raphael Minder spoke from Lisbon, with Geneva Abdul from Paris.

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