What’s Airbnb worth to Berlin? New numbers as city considers short-term holiday rental ban

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Airbnb could be worth €100m per year to Berlin, according to a study out this week – released as the city’s lawmakers consider a ban on certain short-term holiday rentals.

San Francisco-headquartered Airbnb is a pioneer of the “sharing economy” with three million guests using its peer-to-peer online platform during 2012. In Germany, about 5000 guests per night choose Airbnb over hotels, hostels or other peer-to-peer rental services such as 9flats, Wimdu and HouseTrip.

Not everyone’s a fan. Some politicians argue short-term holiday rentals undermine the normal rental property market. If you can rent to a steady stream of tourists at premium rates, why give the space to your average Joe Berliner?

With prevention of that kind of behaviour in mind, the city is considering a ban on the “misappropriation” of housing. According to Der Spiegel, it follows similar laws in San Francisco, London and Paris – and in Munich, where anyone who privately and “predominantly” rents an apartment to short-term guests could be fined up to €50,000.

Airbnb in Berlin – by the numbers

The bill is expected to pass this fall. So a report released Monday is timely. The study, based on a survey between July 2012 and June 2013 by HafenCity University Hamburg and consultants DWIF in partnership with Airbnb, found that:

  • Hosts and guests together contributed an estimated €100m in economic activity to Berlin in that period – while some of that would just have gone to hotels and hostels if Airbnb wasn’t around, 28 per cent of surveyed guests apparently wouldn’t have come to Berlin or stayed as long without it.
  • Most Airbnb hosts in Berlin rent out either their primary or secondary residence.
  • The average Berlin host earns €1,949 per year through Airbnb.
  • The average host spends 48 per cent of his or her Airbnb income on regular living expenses such as rent or mortgage payments.
  • Nearly half of Airbnb hosts earn below Berlin’s median household income (€1,650 per month).
  • Airbnb guests stay longer and spend less per day than hotel guests – an average of 6.3 nights and €845 spent over the course of their trip, compared to hotel guests’ 2.3 nights and €471 spent.
  • 77 per cent of Airbnb properties are outside the main hotel areas and the average visitor spends €311.85 in the neighborhood where they stay. 

Guests bring their spending power to neighbourhoods that would otherwise attract less tourists, the company pointed out. In Neukölln, for example, more than 8000 guests spent €2m at local businesses and €1.3m with their hosts.  

Legal loopholes and landmark rulings

An influx of tourists isn’t always welcome. Neukölln, with cheap but rising rent and a growing number of bars and restaurants on once-quiet residential streets, is often cited as a prime example of gentrification in action.

More important for Airbnb is the data on how people are using the platform: A draft of Berlin’s “misappropriation of housing” bill suggests those who just rent out primary and secondary residences aren’t a target. For most hosts, as long as lease conditions and other legal requirements are met, it will probably be business as usual.

recently-updated policy in Hamburg takes a similar approach: renting out a primary residence is fine; renting out a secondary residence or several properties will need a license, which presumably makes it easier to collect tax.

Still, with a landmark ruling in New York leaving one host with a $2400 fine this year, Airbnb’s public policy team won’t be in the mood for risk. The company is appealing that ruling. “This decision could not have more clearly shown that the New York law needs to be clarified and should be made more fair for regular New Yorkers who occasionally rent out their own homes to help make ends meet,” Airbnb Head of Global Public Policy David Hantman said in June.

Airbnb Germany couldn’t be reached to comment on the proposal in Berlin. A spokeswoman did say that there’s no connection with the study released yesterday, which follows similar reports in San Francisco, Paris and Amsterdam.

Image credit: Berlin apartments: Flickr user Bigglesmith

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