Airbnb urges housing reform in Berlin after court overturns permit rejection

Airbnb is celebrating a partial win over a housing law change in Berlin that last year led to a total clampdown on the short term renting of entire homes to visitors to the city. City authorities had couched the move as a necessary measure to tackle housing shortages affecting locals.

While there has been no formal law change, as yet, the latest development blows in a favorable direction for Airbnb.

It pertains to a legal challenge brought by a private individual living in the Berlin district of Pankow against the State of Berlin in the Berlin Administrative Court after he was rejected a permit to rent his own home — a measure city authorities have been using to essentially control the use of home-sharing platforms like Airbnb.

The court recommended he be granted a permit to be able to rent his home for short term tourist rentals for 182 days per year — overturning the earlier rejection of authorization on the grounds that a public interest in the preservation of housing does not exist if the premises are already being used for residential purposes.

In a press release detailing the outcome, the law firm involved in the case interprets the decision as generalized — suggesting other Berliners could take similar action to seek to overturn other permit rejections, and expect to also be granted leave to rent their homes for up to 182 days. Hence Airbnb couching this as a win.

Although, in reality, there are still some big barriers to Berliners wanting to rent whole apartments on Airbnb given it appears they would likely have to fight reluctant city authorities in court in order to obtain authorization (without which they risk of a fine of up to €100,000).

Still, Airbnb is clearly hoping the court decision ends up opening a sizable crack in Berlin’s regulatory dam by applying pressure for a more formal reform of the law in its favor.

In a blog post about the development it couches Berlin’s housing law as both “complex and confusing” and out-and-out “broken” — arguing it “needs to be fixed”.

It also points to a decision last year, also by Berlin’s Administrative Court, which ruled that permits must be granted to hosts renting secondary homes.

It ends the blog with an offer to work with the city authorities to provide “legal certainty for local citizens and collaborate on modern home sharing rules”.

Asked if Airbnb had helped fund the individual’s case against the city, a spokesman for Airbnb told us: “We’re not party to the case.”

Commenting on the case in a statement, Dr Christian Eckart, attorney at the law firm involved, Redeker Sellner Dahs, called for urgent reflection on the legal situation to move towards clarity in the regulatory regime.

“It must not be that citizens of Berlin receive their right to short-term leasing only in legal proceedings,” he said.

At the time of writing Berlin’s Department for Urban Development and Housing had not responded to a request for comment.

Update: The government department has now responded, emphasizing that the legal decision pertains only to a single case, and also denying it was involved in nor recommended the decision. It adds that there is no intention to make changes to the current prohibition based on this single case. And instead says the intention remains to reform the law “with the aim of a more comprehensive protection of housing”.

Here’s it’s statement on the ‘Misappropriation Prohibition Act’ (Zweckentfremdungsverbotsgesetz) in German, which we’ve included below in English (translated via Google Translate):

die benannte Einzelfallentscheidung des Bezirks ist weder mit uns abgestimmt noch beruht sie auf einer Empfehlung durch uns. Das Zweckentfremdungsverbot ist geprägt durch die Einzelfallbetrachtung der Teilaspekte jedes einzelnen Falles. Eine notwendige Prozessführung im Ergebnis einer Einzelfallprüfung erfolgt grundsätzlich in Eigenverantwortung der Bezirke. Die Behauptung der Anwaltskanzlei, dass die Gestattung der 182 Tage in Absprache mit der Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung und Wohnen erfolgt sei, ist falsch. Falsch ist auch, in diesem Fall von einem Urteil zu sprechen: Es handelt sich nur um einen einzelfallbezogenen, auf Hinweis des Gerichts erfolgten, Vergleich. Präzedenzfälle ergeben sich in der Regel nur aus richterlichen Urteilssprüchen.
Eine Anpassung des Zweckentfremdungsverbotsgesetzes allein auf Grund diesen Vergleichs ist also weder geplant noch notwendig. Es wird keine „Kehrtwende“ beim Zweckentfremdungsgesetz geben. Im Gegenteil: das Gesetz soll mit dem Ziel eines umfassenderen Wohnraumschutzes rechtssicher überarbeitet werden.

[The designated individual case decision of the district is neither co-ordinated with us nor based on a recommendation by us. The prohibition of misuse of purpose is characterized by the individual case consideration of the partial aspects of each individual case. A necessary process control as a result of a single-case inspection is basically carried out by the authorities themselves. The allegation of the law firm that the permission of the 182 days in consultation with the senate administration for urban development and living was done is wrong. It is also wrong to speak of a judgment in this case: it is only a case-by-case comparison which is based on a reference to the court. As a rule, precedents arise only from judicial verdicts.
It is therefore neither planned nor necessary to adapt the prohibition of the prohibition of the use of property on the sole basis of this comparison. There will be no “sweeping” in the purpose of misuse. On the contrary, the law is to be revised by law with the aim of a more comprehensive protection of housing.]

Berlin is not the only city where Airbnb’s business growth is being reined in by regulators responding to housing concerns.

In Barcelona city authorities have also been cracking down on short term tourist rentals for several years — just last month announcing they would be ramping up the number of inspectors whose job it is to try to identify illegal rentals.

In July Airbnb agreed to work with Barcelona to remove listings “that could affect long-term housing availability in Barcelona”, as well as to eject illegal commercial operators using the site — couching this as a rapprochement in relations between it and the local government, and claiming it will have “zero tolerance for bad actors”.

At the time Airbnb trumpeted having removed “more than 1,300 listings that could affect long-term housing availability in Barcelona”. While city authorities shot back that there are still around 5,000 to 6,000 “illegal tourist rentals”. So there’s still a pretty sizable gap to be closed there.

The Catalan city has seen anti-tourism protests ramping up in recent years, and Airbnb is a frequent target as a perceived contributor to inflated rents which critics argue drive out families and damage local communities.