30. May 2013–
The head of the Lausanne-headquartered online booking company visited Berlin on Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to influence proposed legislation currently before the Berlin Senate. A decision is expected next week; it could pass into law as early as this summer.
The city-state bill aims to prevent the "misappropriation" of housing in the capital and limit the use of residential apartments for commercial purposes. It's not clear yet which districts would be affected or whether it would affect those listing their primary residences (as opposed to dedicated holiday rentals) on platforms such as Airbnb. Those currently renting out holiday homes or tourist accommodation would be given two years to comply.
"In addition to the creation of new housing, the law is another element in securing affordable housing in Berlin," Senator for Urban Development and the Environment Michael Müller said when introducing the bill [translated from German]. "With the prohibition of misappropriation, housing stock can again be used primarily for living. There will only be exceptions where third-party use is in the public interest."
Holiday rental industry a scapegoat in Berlin's housing issue?
The transformation of Berlin's previously grungy districts to property investor hotspots is a touchy subject. While housing is still relatively cheap, it's definitely on the move – last year, the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) estimated Berlin flat prices had increased by 73 per cent since January 2007 with rent climbing from about €5.50 to about €7.25 per square metre per month in the same period. This, coupled with an expected migration gain of 25,000 to 40,000 people per year, and there's intense pressure on the city's government to come up with a solution to affordable apartment shortages.
Bertrand is sympathetic to Berlin's housing troubles but argues that the holiday rental industry is being made a scapegoat. He estimates there are about 5,000 holiday rentals in Berlin (though, as reported in Der Tagesspiegel, the Berlin Senate puts that figure much higher – at about 12,000).
"When you look at the real issue, the numbers simply don't make sense," he said. "It won't be a solution – if you think that there are 40,000 new Berliners every year."
He would like to see an exemption for people renting out their primary and secondary homes so that the bill would only apply to agencies and fully professional operators.
The timing isn't great for peer-to-peer holiday rental platforms, the darling business model of the internet-enabled "sharing economy". Last week, a judge in New York ruled that some Airbnb hosts were in violation of a 2010 "Illegal Hotel Law" preventing private rentals of fewer than 29 days. Similar questions about the model's legality have emerged in Canada.
Airbnb declined to comment on the proposed law in Berlin before it is passed.
stop sign: flickr user abbilder