Why Many Neighbourhoods Around The World Dislike Airbnb

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Airbnb has become the norm for many people travelling these days.

For less than you’d pay for a hotel room, you can rent accommodation that puts you right in the middle of things, wherever you are, without the discomfort of a backpackers.

In the decade since it was launched, the online home rental platform has gained millions of rooms and properties worldwide that are rented out part-time to worldly travellers.

It has also been at the centre of some controversy, and Airbnb has found itself at war with authorities from Tokyo to Berlin to San Francisco.

Here’s the BBC with the usual points of contention:

  • the number of nights each year a property can be rented out
  • the hiring of entire homes
  • licensing
  • tax requirements
  • how rules should be enforced

In New York City, a recent bill has come into effect that requires online rental services to hand over host data, in the hope of coming down hard on commercial operators.

The idea behind this is to protect affordable housing stock for resident New Yorkers, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to remain in the city.

These restrictions aren’t the first or the last of their kind, as countries all over the world have sought to limit the damage done by Airbnb and other online short-term rentals services:

Amsterdam: Entire home rentals limited to 60 days a year, set to be halved

Barcelona: Short-term rentals must be licensed but no new licenses are being issued

Berlin: Landlords need a permit to rent 50% or more of their main residence for a short period

London: Short-term rentals for whole homes limited to 90 days a year

Palma: Mayor has announced a ban on short-term flat rentals

New York City: Usually illegal for flats to be rented for 30 consecutive days or fewer, unless the host is present

Paris: Short-term rentals limited to 120 days a year

San Francisco: Hosts must obtain business registration and short-term rental certificates. Entire property rentals limited to 90 days a year

Singapore: Minimum rental period of six consecutive months for public housing

Tokyo: Home sharing legalised in only 2017. Capped at 180 days per year

While Airbnb represents only a small percentage of housing units in any given city, it can represent a much larger percentage in certain neighbourhoods. In Barcelona’s Old Town, or example, a 2015 study revealed that 9,6% of homes were listed on Airbnb, jumping to 16,8% in the popular Gothic Quarter.

The 42 local residents who were interviewed as part of the study reported tenant expulsions, harassment and daily disruptions.

Barcelona has stopped issuing new tourism housing licenses, without which short-term rents are illegal. Barcelona council says illegal accommodation “creates speculation and illicit economies and its activities leave nothing positive for local neighbours, causing nuisance and complaints”.

The Barcelona study and various others – including those looking at Boston, Los Angeles, and the entire US – have also suggested a link between the concentration of Airbnb properties in a neighbourhood and rising rents.

The Los Angeles study indicated that, in 2014, almost half of Airbnb listings were clustered in seven neighbourhoods, where rents increased a third more quickly than the city average. The wider US study suggested a 10% increase in Airbnb listings led to a 0.42% increase in rents and a 0.76% increase in house prices.

In 2017, the City of Cape Town took steps to regulate the Airbnb influx after it became apparent that rental prices were sky-rocketing as a result of online short-term rentals.

Airbnb argues that their business helps to diversify tourism, by promoting areas that need visitors while reducing overcrowding in popular tourist spots. They also claim that the money gained from hosting provides economic and social benefits for communities, families and governments.

That said, studies have revealed that, apart from the increased rental prices, locals are concerned that communities could be affected and altered by the influx of tourists.

“This thing is changing the sense of place of the neighbourhood. It’s changing the feel of it, with almost a revolving door of strangers,” one resident said.

Some also fear holiday lets add to problems of “over-tourism”. Barcelona and Venice, for example, each receive more than 30 million visitors a year, leading to vigorous debate about the consequences.

At other times, there have been complaints about short-term visitors’ behaviour, including throwing loud parties or creating parking congestion.

The sudden expansion of short-term letting companies came about unexpectedly, forcing governments to rethink existing regulation.

While this might slow things down for Airbnb, it is also a necessary first step towards ensuring that short-term letting companies maintain an ethical relationship with the cities in which they conduct their business.