People, Travel

Tougher Rules for Vacation Rentals in Germany’s Capital

Tougher Rules for Vacation Rentals in Germany’s CapitalTougher Rules for Vacation Rentals in Germany’s Capital

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.

On Sunday, the city-state enacted a new law known by the German mouthful of “Zweckentfremdungsverbot”, or prohibition of improper use, AFP reported.

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.”

Rents in Berlin shot up 56% between 2009 and 2014, although at around €10 per square meter 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 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.

 Huge Parallel Market

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 allows owners to only 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.

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 policymakers 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.