domingo, 1 de maio de 2016

Berlin cracks down on Airbnb rentals to cool market

Cities Should Crack Down on Airbnb Hosts
AUG 25, 2014 9:28 AM EST

Leonid Bershidsky

The apartment rental site Airbnb has agreed to provide the New York attorney general's office with the names and other personal details of 124 of its hosts. I hope this marks the beginning of the end of Airbnb's current business model in New York and other big cities, including Berlin, where I live.

Airbnb said most of the 124 being scrutinized are no longer listed on its site. The rest are "hosts with multiple listings," according to Airbnb. It's hard to know why they've been targeted, wrote Airbnb's David Hantman on the company's Public Policy Blog, "without knowing more about why the Attorney General is interested in these hosts specifically."

That's disingenuous: Airbnb knows full well why Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wants the information, particularly about those who have listed multiple properties for rent. In April, Schneiderman published an essay in the New York Times voicing suspicion that some Airbnb "hosts" are, in fact, "large, commercial enterprises with dozens of apartments -- truly illegal hotels." If so, said Schneiderman, they are violating New York's 2010 law against short-term rentals in apartment buildings.

If Airbnb shares information about such hosts with authorities, their rental activity becomes very risky. Likewise, the San Francisco startup may not always protect the data of ordinary apartment owners who rent out a room to supplement their income. The government would like to know whose rental income is not reported. If Airbnb caved by delivering a few names, it will probably give up the rest eventually, provided enough pressure is applied. Even for hosts whose taxes are in perfect order, that may mean additional scrutiny and unpleasantness.

Yet I think Airbnb and its hosts had it coming. I am a renter myself, and recently completed the harrowing experience of a Berlin apartment search. There are so few decent apartments on the market that about 20 potential tenants show up at every viewing. Prices are climbing at a steady pace, and rental contracts take account of that. Landlords get to pick and choose, asking uncomfortable questions about your finances, family life and professional background. Despite steady employment, I was turned down for three apartments before I found the one my family now lives in. It's in Mitte -- one of three areas of central Berlin where Airbnb rentals are concentrated.

I'm pleased that Berlin has banned short-time rentals without express permission from the city government. In central neighborhoods, it's much more lucrative to rent by the day than by the month. So if rentals were unregulated, long-term leases would be relegated to the city periphery. That's true in most big cities, including New York. In addition, I don't want to live in a building that functions as an ad-hoc hotel.

Finally, regulating rentals better serves the travelers themselves. Dealing with a large, centralized service like Airbnb lulls tourists into a false sense of security. They can easily end up in locations -- and situations -- they would have liked to avoid.

Why do people need to supplement their incomes by renting in the first place? If your apartment is too big for your needs, you can always rent it out long-term and find a smaller one, or simply trade down. If that's not possible, and short-time renting is one's only hope, some rules should apply. Amsterdam, considered an Airbnb-friendly city, allows people to rent out their residences for up to two months a year to a maximum of four people at a time. That's reasonable: It's relatively hassle-free for neighbors and not destructive to the long-term rental market.

Similar restrictions should apply in New York and other big cities. There's nothing wrong with the sharing economy or with earning extra income, but there should be curbs on greed, and taxes must be paid. A city government's stamp of approval would also heighten confidence in the market.

In smaller towns, which cannot always sustain a decent hotel, Airbnb could be allowed to operate unregulated. Small communities are better than large cities at policing themselves, and travelers would be glad of the convenience -- and the often unforgettable experience -- of living like locals. A tighter regulatory regime might force Airbnb's $10 billion valuation down a bit, but it would still be a viable business -- without many of its current risks and unpleasant side effects.

Berlim, tal como Barcelona,   toma uma atitude anti-especulativa bem clara e determinada,  afim de proteger e garantir o direito à habitação permanente aos residentes locais.

Berlin cracks down on Airbnb rentals to cool market
Published: 01 May 2016

Berlin has begun restricting private property rentals through Airbnb and similar online platforms, threatening hefty fines in a controversial move meant to keep housing affordable for locals.

The German capital fears that the growing trend of people letting out apartments to tourists through sites such as Airbnb, Wimdu and 9Flats is cutting into a limited property supply and driving up rents.

From May 1st, the city-state will enact a new law known by the German mouthful of "Zweckentfremdungsverbot", or prohibition of improper use.

It is "a necessary and sensible instrument against the housing shortage in Berlin," said Andreas Geisel, Berlin's head of urban development.

"I am absolutely determined to return such misappropriated apartments to the people of Berlin and to newcomers," he said.

Rents in Berlin shot up 56 percent between 2009 and 2014, although at around 10 euros per square metre this year, they are relatively low compared to other major European cities.

Given that it is more profitable to rent out whole apartments for short holiday lets, some investors are holding on to apartments for such rentals rather than having long-term tenants.

San Francisco-based -- short for the business's original name AirBed & Breakfast -- is the biggest of several sites that allow people to offer and find such rental accommodation worldwide.

While Berlin has become one of Europe's top travel destinations, with 30.2 million overnight stays last year, the Airbnb trend has also impacted the local hotel industry.

According to research firm GBI, the private online bookings represent a "parallel market of an additional 6.1 million" overnight stays a year.

The new law was passed in 2014 and provided for a two-year transition period that ended on April 30, after which owners are only allowed to rent out rooms via such portals, not entire flats or houses.

Offenders can face fines of up to €100,000 ($113,000).

To catch them, the city has even appealed to the "civic spirit" of its residents and asked them to anonymously report any suspected misuse online.

Tim Boening, a 41-year-old artists' agent who rents out a loft in the trendy Kreuzberg district, said he wasn't shocked by the new law, given the practices he has witnessed.

There is, for example, "the nice couple with two small apartments who move in together into a bigger place and keep the two apartments to rent them out on Airbnb," he told AFP.

"I don't think that's good, it should be stopped," he said, as these apartments are not available to "normal" tenants.

Marika, 48, couldn't agree less and is furious about the change, having long rented out four apartments near the centre of Berlin via Airbnb.

She believed that the city is making Berliners pay for its failed housing policy while serving the needs of the hotel industry.

"This is unfair, we are forbidden from doing our work," said Marika -- not her real name.

The only impact, she argued, would be that some groups, especially families, will simply stay away.

She was especially angry about the request to turn in offenders, saying that "in Germany, of all places, maybe we should reconsider this kind of thing," in reference to the Nazi and former East German communist dictatorship in which denouncing others was common practice.

Airbnb Germany said "Berliners want clear and simple rules for home sharing, so they can continue to share their own home with guests".

The practice differs from other types of accommodation "and helps many Berliners pay their rent," spokesman Julian Trautwein told AFP in a statement.

"We will continue to encourage Berlin policy-makers to listen to their citizens and to follow the example of other big cities such as Paris, London, Amsterdam or Hamburg and create new, clear rules for normal people who are sharing their own homes."

Wimdu has meanwhile filed a suit, arguing the law breaches the constitution of the city-state of Berlin.

And the owners of start-up 9Flats said they had sold the brand to a Singapore company.

"We face a law in Berlin that would drive us into bankruptcy," its boss Roman Bach told the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Several property owners who use Airbnb have formed the "Apartments Allianz" to push back against the charge they are evil capitalists growing rich on the backs of fellow Berliners.

Rather, they say, they have offered "an attractive, varied range of beautiful and individual apartments", and have through their personal hospitality "significantly contributed to a positive image for Berlin".

They say they are "not international players, but working in Berlin for Berlin".

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