Airbnb has become a thorn in the side of many cities who want to regulate its growth over the course of the decade-plus period in which it’s gone from scrappy sharing economy startup to hospitality behemoth.
Now the cities of Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Bordeaux, Brussels, Krakow, Munich, Paris, Valencia, and Vienna have asked the European Union to prevent granting vacation rental giant Airbnb carte blanche in the region.
In a letter published on the website of Amsterdam’s city council, the cities referenced a non-binding ruling in April, in which a legal advisor (known as an advocate general) to Europe’s top court said Airbnb should be considered a digital service provider, not an accommodation provider. It was, at the time, seen as a promising sign for the future of Airbnb’s operations in Europe in an age of backlash against overtourism.
The municipal officials expressed their concern about the implications of this decision. “This will have, we fear, one major implication: Homes needed for residents to live and work in our cities will become more and more considered as a market for renting out to tourists,” reads the letter. “We think that cities are best placed to understand their residents’ needs. They have always been allowed to organize local activities through urban planning or housing measures. The [advocate general] seems to imply that this will simply no longer be possible in the future when it comes to internet giants.”
The cities are asking for cooperation from the new European Parliament and the incoming European Commission to help establish “strong legal obligations” across the bloc compelling Airbnb to comply with local regulations. At present, the letter noted, “where platforms claim that they are willing to cooperate with the authorities, in practice they don’t or only do so on a voluntary basis.”
Airbnb is known to be hesitant when asked to provide officials with detailed data about listings and actively fights against being compelled to share it. Airbnb and HomeAway sued New York City in 2018, asserting that a statue requiring them to reveal detailed information about their listings was unconstitutional.
In January of this year, the court agreed. The European cities’ letter said this lack of transparency prevents local officials from enforcing their own laws, such as a yearly limit on the amount of days a flat can be let out as a vacation rental.
In a statement Airbnb told Skift: “The opinion of the advocate general provides a clear overview of what rules apply to collaborative economy platforms like Airbnb and how these rules help create opportunities for consumers. We also want to be good partners to cities, and already we have worked with more than 500 governments around the world on measures to help hosts share their homes, follow the rules, and pay their fair share of tax. As we move forward, we want to continue working with everyone to put locals at the heart of sustainable 21st century travel.”