With Vacation Rentals Empty, European Cities See a Chance to Reclaim Housing


LISBON — Long earlier than the coronavirus swept throughout Europe this spring, many cities had been complaining that a proliferation of short-term house leases aimed toward vacationers by way of platforms like Airbnb was driving up housing prices for locals and destroying the character of historic districts.

Now that the pandemic has all however lower off the regular circulation of holiday makers, many European cities are seizing a possibility to push short-term leases again onto the long-term housing market.

In Lisbon, the Portuguese capital, town authorities is changing into a landlord itself by renting empty residences and subletting them as sponsored housing. In Barcelona, Spain, the housing division is threatening to take possession of empty properties and do the identical.

Other metropolis governments are enacting or planning new legal guidelines to curb the explosive progress of leases aimed largely at vacationers. Amsterdam has banned trip leases within the coronary heart of the previous metropolis; a Berlin official warned of a crackdown on short-term leasing platforms “trying to evade regulation and the enforcement of law”; and Paris is planning a referendum on Airbnb-type listings.

For years, properties rented out for short-term stays have snatched away housing models from native residents in a number of European cities. Lisbon has greater than 22,000 Airbnb listings, according to Inside Airbnb, which tracks listings in cities around the globe. Barcelona has 18,000, and Paris — one of the platform’s largest markets — has nearly 60,000.

When tourists are plentiful, renting a property on a short-term basis can be more lucrative for owners than a long-term tenant, something that city governments say has distorted housing markets in cities where supply is already tight. They also accuse online platforms of circumventing laws put in place to protect local markets.

“We cannot tolerate that accommodations that could be rented to Parisians are now rented all year to tourists,” the deputy mayor of Paris, Ian Brossat, said in a phone interview. Mr. Brossat also said he was hoping to cut the number of days per year that a property can be rented through platforms like Airbnb — currently 120. He accused the company of breaching even that rule.

“Airbnb pretends to respect the law, but it’s not the case,” said Mr. Brossat, who has written a book critical of Airbnb and its impact on cities.

Airbnb denies any wrongdoing, in Paris or elsewhere. “They’ve set the rules, and we’re following the rules,” said Patrick Robinson, Airbnb’s director of public policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “Where there is a vigorous discussion about the right regulations, we’re part of that conversation, and ultimately that’s for local politicians to decide.”

“We entered the pandemic with a huge pressure on our housing market, and we cannot afford to exit the pandemic with the same set of problems,” said the city’s mayor, Fernando Medina. “This program is not a magic wand, but it can be part of the solution in terms of raising the supply of affordable housing.”

The program is aiming to attract 1,000 apartment owners this year, and has drawn 200 so far. Mr. Medina said he was confident that the plan would meet its goal, since a rebound in tourism anytime soon seems increasingly unlikely as the pandemic drags on.

The plan has been welcomed by some neighborhood associations that had criticized local politicians as allowing the city to become a playground for tourists and wealthy investors, many of them drawn to Portugal by residency permits and tax breaks offered to foreigners after the 2007-8 financial crisis.

“The coronavirus has helped expose the negative aspects of Portugal’s recovery from the financial crisis, which was driven by real estate and tourism rather than a focus on the basic needs of local people,” said Luís Mendes, an urban geographer who is a member of a citizens’ platform called Living in Lisbon.

Above all, Mr. Mendes said, the lockdown restrictions used to contain the coronavirus put the spotlight on the housing imbalances in Lisbon. “How can you quarantine if you don’t have a decent house?” he said. “We now have a city hall that has put forward an interesting scheme and is at least aware that having a roof is a fundamental human right.”

In Lisbon, occupancy rates for Airbnb and Vrbo, a short-rental booking site that was once known as HomeAway, dropped 50 percent in May from a year earlier, according to AirDNA, which collects vacation rental data.

Miguel Tilli, the co-founder of HomeLovers, a Portuguese real estate agency, said he had been listing as many as 60 new properties a month in Lisbon — almost all of which had previously been rented through Airbnb but were now open to long-term tenants.

Rental prices in the city have dropped 10 percent since the start of the pandemic, but landlords who had previously let properties through Airbnb were still resistant to reducing rents.

“Many landlords are acting as if Covid is somebody’s else problem,” Mr. Tilli said. “That cannot last forever.”

Raphael Minder reported from Lisbon, and Geneva Abdul from Paris.



Source link Nytimes.com

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