Spain’s cities closing the door on Airbnb-type rental sites

Barcelona leads the way with tougher requirements and fines for letting out unlicensed properties

Josep Catà Figuls
Tourists at a holiday apartment in Barcelona's Ciutat Vella.
Tourists at a holiday apartment in Barcelona's Ciutat Vella.Juan Barbosa

Spain’s major cities and tourist resorts have declared war on short-term rental sites such as Airbnb and Homeaway, saying they are encouraging the black economy as well as creating problems in residential areas.

Leading the way is Barcelona, which receives almost 9 million visitors annually, and is struggling to handle the sharp increase in numbers over recent years.

A month ago, Barcelona City Hall introduced a €1.3 million raft of measures to crack down on owners letting out apartments using sites like Airbnb, but without a license. The authorities set up a website and called on residents to report apartments being rented out illegally. So far, some 500 complaints have been made.

The website also invites people staying in apartments they have rented to check if it is licensed. Gala Pin, a councilor in Barcelona’s central Ciutat Vella neighborhood, which has been particularly affected by private holiday renting, says it can take up to six months and a year to bring action to stop people renting out unlicensed apartments.

In Madrid, City Hall has tried to push through legislation requiring a minimum five-night stay in private apartments

In 2014, the regional government of Catalonia fined Airbnb, whose Spanish headquarters are in the city, along with seven other sites offering similar services. The regional government has threatened to block access to sites such as Airbnb from Catalonia if they do not comply with its rules.

Part of the problem in dealing with unlicensed rentals is that there is no overarching national legislation: in 2013, the government devolved the decision to regional administrations, allowing property owners to take advantage of numerous loopholes and avoid applying for a license.

In the Balearic Islands, for example, it is forbidden to rent apartments out to tourists, but not houses. In the Canary Islands, only apartments in non-tourist areas can be rented out. In Andalusia, any type of property can be rented out, but only if the owner lives in it. In Catalonia, which has imposed the toughest restrictions, property owners must apply for a license and provide papers proving the apartment is insured and is habitable.

In Madrid, City Hall has tried to push through legislation requiring a minimum five-night stay in private apartments.

Spain may decide to follow the lead of cities like London, where the new mayor says tougher safety requirements will be introduced. In New York, owners who break the rules on a minimum 30-day stay and who do not live in the property they are renting out are fined. In Iceland, Airbnb transactions are taxed by the government.

At the same time, Spain’s Tax Agency is now increasingly targeting the owners of apartments who placed rental ads last year – including those on specialized websites such as Airbnb – in a crackdown on unreported income.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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