Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
Airbnb is on board — but will it really change anything?
It’s not just Berlin that’s adding new restrictions to Airbnb this year. The city of Amsterdam announced Thursday that it is placing a limit on the number of days an apartment can be rented on Airbnb, at no more than 60 days per year.
Amsterdam’s effort has one key difference from Berlin’s, however: Airbnb is actually on board with this one. The company and the city have announced the plan as a move they’re taking together. Amsterdam’s cap is just one of many placed by a number of cities on Airbnb rentals, motivated by fears that housing for permanent residents is being eaten away to cater to tourists. But in the absence of fines, will Amsterdam’s plan be enough to stop the so-called homesharing sector’s growth? And is Airbnb’s cooperation just a damage limitation exercise, or evidence of genuine good faith?
The enforcement of Amsterdam’s new rule, which starts January 1, 2017, is up to Airbnb. They will keep tabs on any full-apartment rentals and automatically delist any that have already hosted 60 overnight stays until the next calendar year. (The limit doesn’t apply to users renting out rooms in shared apartments, but that style of renting is much less common in the city.) To help conscientious hosts plan their calendar better, their accounts will feature a table displaying how many days they have rented their property so far that year, with a warning popping up after 50 rental days have passed.This should also help send a message to prospective investors in Amsterdam vacation apartments that the days of renting them year-round as short stays are over.
Still, when it comes to stamping out full-time professional vacation rentals, the new rules risk being about as effective as a bayonet made of pastry. While the word Airbnb has become a synecdoche for all short-stay platforms, sites such as Wimdu and 9flats also do a roaring trade. After 60 days of Airbnb rental, a host could easily continue to trade on one of these sites. Indeed, the new rule might help boost their business. It’s no wonder that some local politicians are damning Amsterdam’s new arrangement as “butter-soft” in its toothlessness.
Meanwhile, across the North Sea, another cap has been brought in, likewise by Airbnb itself. London may have the third largest number of Airbnb listings in the world (after New York and Paris). So far, however, the city’s backlash against the platform has been muted by international standards, perhaps because Londoners have already been ground down by appalling housing costs and exploitative landlords. A report from Airbnb itself has nonetheless acknowledged that around a third of its London listings are rented for more than three months a year, after which landlords are required to seek a change-of-use permission (though they rarely apply for it). Starting next spring, Airbnb will delist London apartments that don’t have change-of-use permission after 90 days’ stay.
This could be seen as a positive step from a platform trying to encourage more conscientious behavior. It certainly shows that Airbnb is acknowledging that the short-stay market could have a vampiric effect on cities if left completely unregulated. Not all Amsterdam’s politicians seem convinced of the site’s goodwill however, with several suggesting it was only the threat of an all-out ban in New York that pressed Airbnb to propose its own controls. Indeed, the move comes only after the Amsterdam threatened to cease all cooperation with the platform in March.
Meanwhile the discrepancies in rental period caps from city to city don’t seem to add up. Is there evidence that an apartment rented for 90 days would be a potential drain on the pool of available long-term rentals in Amsterdam, but not in London? If not, why is there are difference in time limits? The complicated introduction of a partial Airbnb ban in Berlin shows that introducing legislation against vacation apartments is far from straightforward. The arbitrary-looking, half-hearted measures Airbnb has voluntarily adopted in Amsterdam and London nonetheless show that leaving the industry to regulate itself is not the answer.