22. November 2013–
Who is the typical Airbnb user – casual host or professional landlord? This question is crucial as new restrictions on short-term holiday rentals in Berlin take effect next year.
After months of tussling between political parties and lobby groups, Berlin's state parliament passed a new law on Thursday to prohibit the "misappropriation of housing" in the rapidly-growing German capital. The stated goal – in combination with other measures, such as increasing the city's supply of new housing – is to ensure Berlin's residents aren't pushed out by rising rent and the conversion of residential apartments into vacation rentals. As many as 15,000 apartments could be affected.
The law (draft version in German) will allow district authorities to require anyone who rents out a private apartment to tourists or other short-term visitors to apply for a license. If that license is denied, hosts will be given two years to "transition". Apartments primarily used for residential purposes and "secondary homes" will be exempt.
That suggests most Airbnb users – who, according to the company, are "regular people who occasionally rent out the home in which they live" – will be exempt. Others, who buy or rent apartments specifically to sublet to tourists, business travellers and other short-term visitors, may now need to apply for a license.
In a blog post on Monday, Airbnb Head of Global Public Policy David Hantman asked for more certainty. "It’s unclear whether or how these rules would apply to Airbnb hosts," he wrote. "For example, the law might give current hosts two years to continue hosting, but only if they register with the government and obtain a license. And the proposal gives few details on how and when that license should be granted."
Wimdu and 9flats, two of Airbnb's main rivals in Germany, are also concerned as is HouseTrip, a leading online booking platform for vacation apartment rentals. The three companies have formed a lobby group to support peer-to-peer holiday rentals.
It isn't just a question for Berlin. Airbnb – backed up by the Electronic Frontier Foundation – is fighting a request by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for information on hosts who could be using the platform to run illegal businesses – including names, addresses, gross revenue and what kinds of taxes were paid.
In France, meanwhile, a bill expected to come before the government in early 2014 would also put new restrictions on short-term holiday rentals.