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by Soo Kim, The Daily Telegraph, May 04, 2016
Authorities in Berlin are attempting to crack down on Airbnb and its rivals with the threat of hefty fines for users who rent out entire properties rather than single rooms.
The new law known as "Zweckentfremdungsverbot", which was passed in 2014 but only came into force on April 30, is part of an attempt to safeguard affordable housing for the city's permanent residents.
Offenders are subject to fines of up to €100,000 (£79,000), and locals have been advised to anonymously report any suspected lawbreakers.
The controversial move is a "necessary and sensible instrument against the housing shortage in Berlin," according to Andreas Geisel, Berlin's head of urban development, but has been met with outrage from users of the holiday letting websites.
"This is unfair, we are forbidden from doing our work," 48-year-old 'Marika', who lets four flats in Berlin’s city centre on Airbnb, told AFP. She claimed that the move was forcing Berlin locals to pay for the local government's failed housing policy while serving the needs of the city’s hotel industry.
But others weren’t surprised by the new legislation, in view of some of the practices that are said to take place.
"[What about] the nice couple with two small apartments who move in together into a bigger place and keep the two apartments to rent them out on Airbnb", asked 41-year-old artist agent Tim Boening, who rents out his loft in Berlin’s trendy Kreuzberg district. "I don't think that's good, it should be stopped."
Airbnb argues that its hosts are “regular people who occasionally share their homes to pay the bills”.
“The typical Airbnb host in Berlin earns an additional €1,800 a year by sharing their space – either a spare room or the entire place when out of town – for 34 nights a year”, it said.
Daniel Hofmann, an independent housing expert from GEWOS, a Hamburg-based research firm, added: "The tiny fraction of homes listed on Airbnb is far too small to have any significant impact on the availability of housing in Berlin. The tense housing market is a complex problem that is being driven by migration and a lack of new homes being built – not people sharing their homes through Airbnb."
Airbnb claimed government authorities have made a series of “conflicting and confusing statements” in recent weeks about the property rental restrictions, which say Berlin residents could:
- Share space in their homes, as long as they don’t accept money
- Share spare rooms in their homes
- Share up to 50 percent of their home with guests
- Share their homes, providing they don’t remove housing from the market
“Going forward, we want to work with everyone in Berlin on some clear, fair rules that allow people to share their homes”, Airbnb said in a statement .
“Both help make efficient use of space and boost economic opportunities for local residents and their communities."
Wimdu, a rival property sharing website, has filed a lawsuit claiming the regulations breach the constitution of Berlin, while the owners of the firm 9Flats have sold the brand to a Singapore company."We face a law in Berlin that would drive us into bankruptcy," the chief executive officer of 9Flats, Roman Bach, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
"We will continue to encourage Berlin policy-makers to listen to their citizens and to follow the example of other big cities such as Paris, London, Amsterdam or Hamburg and create new, clear rules for normal people who are sharing their own homes", Julian Trautwein, a spokesperson for Airbnb, told AFP.
Burkhard Kieker, the chief executive officer of VisitBerlin, told Telegraph Travel: “Holiday apartments are just as integral to an international city as an attractive hotel landscape is. However, in the past few years Berlin has experienced an uncontrollable growth in the former.
"Berlin will only continue to be a tourist magnet if it remains authentic. The city centre must therefore, ensure to uphold its local structure and support its residents."
Founded and based in San Francisco, with listings in more than 34,000 cities and 191 countries, Airbnb is one of the world’s largest private property rental websites.
Its bookings in Berlin alone were said to represent a "parallel market of an additional 6.1 million" overnight stays a year in the city, which saw a total of 30.2 million overnight stays last year.
But following the April 30 deadline and the arrival of the latest legislation, Airbnb listings in Berlin were reported to have dropped by 40 percent.
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Berlin is the latest city to face a crackdown on property letting websites. Earlier this year, Airbnb apartments in Paris - the company's largest market, surpassing New York and London with more than 40,000 listings in the last year - were raided by authorities in a bid to catch out any homeowners who have been renting out their property for more than the legally allowed 120-day limit within a year, the French newspaper The Local reported.
A new survey revealed that 44 per cent of homes in France listed on Airbnb are permanently available to rent.
The latest Airbnb and other property rental policies around the world
The Queen has signed into law progressive new rules for London that ensure everyone in the UK is free to share their homes with guests from around the world. From April 2016, hosts can share their space tax free on income up to £7,500, after the government extended the rent-a-room tax relief. The UK Chancellor announced in the recent budget that he is working on new plans to cut the tax bills of thousands of ‘self-starters’ who share their homes to pay the bills . Under the new plans, Airbnb hosts can earn £1,000 tax free additional income by sharing their homes, without having to declare it.
In March 2014, the President of France signed into law “Bill ALUR”—new national housing legislation . The law clarifies that wherever you live in France, you can rent out the home in which you live.
In 2015, Airbnb began collecting and remitting tourist taxes from guests on behalf of hosts last year and remitted almost €1.2 million in tax revenue to the City of Paris on behalf of hosts in the first three months of operation. More here .
In March 2016, Airbnb announced new measures with Paris City Hall to promote responsible home sharing and ensure hosting does not negatively impact the availability or affordability of housing.
Early 2014, Amsterdam City Council approved a policy that made it easier for local residents to share the home in which they live.
Airbnb and the City of Amsterdam have signed an MOU to promote responsible home sharing, simplify the payment of tourist tax and clamp down on illegal hotels.
In December 2015, Airbnb announced its partnership with the City of Amsterdam will continue for another year.
Portugal has revised its tourism laws to clarify that residents can share their homes and benefit for smart and streamlined regulations that apply consistently across the country.
Airbnb and the City of Lisbon signed an agreement to simplify the payment of tourist tax and promote responsible home sharing.
In March, Airbnb released data that showed the economic impact of Airbnb in Barcelona in 2015 was more than €740 million, and that Airbnb hosts, guests and listings are increasingly found outside the tourist hotspots in the communities Barcelona locals call home.
Last month, the Government of Catalonia announced it is starting work on new rules for the sharing economy and home sharing that clearly distinguish between professional and non-professional operators. It has established a new commission to oversee the process.
Under a law enacted by the City of Hamburg, it is entirely legal to use Airbnb to rent out a private room or to occasionally rent out your primary residence, and you do not need to take any action or apply for a license from the government.
Milan and the wider region of Lombardy have introduced new rules that confirm residents can share their homes, and that it’s a non-professional activity that is exempt from registration and other red tape.
Airbnb have entered an agreement with the City of Florence to make tourist tax rules clearer and simpler, educate hosts on home sharing rules and promote responsible tourism.
This article was written by Soo Kim from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.