Berlin housing law change squeezes Airbnb

A 2014 change to housing law in Berlin, aimed at protecting property supply and combating surging rent rates, came into effect on May 1 — banning short term tourist rentals of entire apartments without a city permit.

Partial rentals, where a host rents a room or rooms within their own home, are unaffected by the law change.

The city’s head of urban development, Andreas Geisel, described the move as “necessary and sensible”, adding: “I am absolutely determined to return such misappropriated apartments to the people of Berlin and to newcomers.”

Berliners found to be flouting the new law face fines of up to €100,000. Locals who suspect their neighbors are being encouraged to file anonymous reports online.

Airbnb failed to respond a request for comment on the law change.

The move in Berlin follows similar government actions aimed at protecting the housing supply in Barcelona, where Airbnb has been fined for breaching laws requiring flats rented to tourists to be listed on a regional registry.

Homeowners in Barcelona found to be flouting tourist registration rental rules by, for example, listing an unregistered apartment on Airbnb, can also face big fines.

It’s a different story in London which last year made changes to housing law to specifically sanction the practice of short term rentals (for up to three months a year) without the need for permits.

In addition, earlier this year, the UK government announced tax breaks for people listing short term rentals — in a move aimed at encouraging the so-called ‘sharing economy’.

Airbnb has also secured a surer footing in Amsterdam, after inking an agreement with city authorities at the end of 2014 to collect and remit tourist taxes, starting in February 2015.

Last summer it also inked a similar agreement with city officials in Paris, although unauthorized short term tourist rentals in the city — Airbnb’s largest market — can also face fines.

Airbnb has been under pressure to do more to combat the rise of professional hosting on its platform, and late last year agreed to share more data with city governments.

However data subsequently released by Airbnb for the city New York suggested commercial hosting plays a significant role in its business — and thus that the platform contributes to taking housing stock off the market.