For millions of holidaymakers, Airbnb has opened up an entire planet of brilliant and affordable accommodation options – from treehouses to chateaux, penthouses to private islands.
For governments and local residents, however, Airbnb and other short-term rental companies are being blamed for pricing out long-term renters and side-stepping the regulations and taxes imposed on hotels and registered apartments.
The latest country to have introduced stricter regulations on Airbnb is Japan. This week the holiday rental website was forced to withdraw tens of thousands of listings from its site and cancel reservations ahead of a new law clamping down on private residences.
“This announcement came as a surprise to us. It was contrary to the guidance our team had previously been given by the Japanese Tourism Agency and put the travel experiences of thousands of visitors to Japan at risk,” Airbnb said in a statement reported by Reuters.
Under the new legislation, due to come into effect on June 15, anyone wanting to list their property on Airbnb will need to register their accommodation with the local government, who will conduct fire and safety checks.
The new regulations will also limit rentals to 180 days per year – with fines of up to ¥1 million (£6,821) for anyone who breaches the rules.
The measures have been introduced to build more transparency into the home-sharing industry. The Japanese government aims to increase lodging options for tourists ahead of the Rugby World Cup and Tokyo Olympics in 2020, and to provide accommodation for the booming number of regular holidaymakers who are visiting the country each year.
“We are on course to register tens of thousands of new listings in Japan in the months ahead,” a spokesperson for Airbnb told Reuters. “There will be undoubtedly be a period of adjustment, but ultimately, clear rules and regulations for home sharing will make our community in Japan bigger and stronger.”
The new law will also open up Japan’s 77,000 nationwide temples. Until now the spiritual buildings were restricted from marketing themselves as commercial accommodation, but this will change after June 15.
There are many countries that have taken an even stricter stance against Airbnb.
The local government in Barcelona is embroiled in an ongoing legal dispute with the company. In 2016 the city council fined Airbnb €600,000 for continuing to advertise unlicensed flats. Today, a team of inspectors roam the city in a bid to crack down on illegal apartments – a move that has also been mooted in New York. Opponents have called this a “stop-and-frisk” equivalent for the home-sharing industry.
In April 2018, Palma de Mallorca became the first Spanish city to completely prohibit apartment rentals to tourists, in a crackdown on companies such as Airbnb that locals claim are driving up rents. The move came after a study found 20,000 unlicensed flat rentals in the city, a rise of 50 per cent between 2015 and 2017.
Last month, Amsterdam’s main political parties announced radical measures to ban short-term rentals in busy areas in a bid to combat so-called “overtourism”. From next year the amount of days permitted for Airbnb-type hire will be halved to 30. The city has seen a huge rise in tourist numbers, with 18 million people expected to visit this year – up from 11 million in 2005, according to research bureau SEO.
Santa Monica has imposed tougher sanctions on Airbnb than anywhere else in the States. The city’s legislation imposes taxes on short-term rentals, and requires that hosts be present while renting their accommodation out to guests.
All of this comes against a backdrop of unprecedented growth for the San Francisco-based company. Airbnb now has over four million listings in 65,000 cities across 191 countries. Valued at $30 billion, it is the third most valuable private business in the world, after Chinese electronics company Xiaomi and Uber.