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.
A new vacation rental law aims to ease the strain of tourism in central Madrid and spread the industry’s benefits to other parts of the city.
If your apartment doesn’t have its own private entrance, it can’t be listed on Airbnb.
That’s the latest vacation-rental law in Madrid, introduced last week as the city seeks to halt the tourism industry’s steady takeover of apartments in the city center. The law applies to any housing unit that is rented out for more than 90 days a year. Crucially, it would apply to units in taller buildings, too: Any home above ground would need its own private elevator or staircase, one that isn’t used by any other residents in the building. As of March 27, the municipality has the power to initiate proceedings that could lead to the removal of listings that break the law.
If it’s implemented to its fullest capacity, it would mean up to 95 percent of current full-time vacation apartments in central Madrid would be taken off the market.
Given the strain that tourism is placing on the city core, such a tough stance makes sense. In 2018, over 1.2 million visitors to the city stayed in Airbnb-listed apartments, with an estimated 24,000 listings in the inner city area that, because of its shape, locals calls the Almendra Central, or “central almond.”
Partly as a result of this pressure on the Almendra, rents across the entire city have been going up alarmingly fast, with a 7.2 percent average rise between August 2017 and 2018. As people are forced out, inner Madrid is also becoming increasingly mono-generational, attracting relatively prosperous younger adults who don’t mind the noise created by bars while simultaneously seeing a drop in the number of families and young children.
The area has thus lost the village-like feel that used to linger in its backstreets, as well as the livelihood of businesses like local grocery stores. Adding to residents’ sense of frustration is that they now have to share typically narrow entrances, corridors, and elevators with an endless stream of international tourists, some of whom lack the manners to make such close proximity tolerable. In an area where long-term residents are departing, and the businesses they supported are disappearing, it becomes even harder to support a sense of community when your neighbors change weekly.
It’s into this increasingly tense situation that Madrid’s new laws seek to intervene. But while they are sweeping, the city’s new rule has some flexibility, seeking to redistribute vacation apartments rather than banish them entirely. Residents will still be permitted to rent their apartments to visitors for up to 90 days annually, while the requirement of a private entrance will not be enforced for most buildings in outer Madrid. The idea is to encourage landlords who want to rent their properties to tourists to choose locations that are farther out, spreading both the pressure on local services and the extra custom that tourists can bring to local businesses.
The premise thus seems reasonable—but that doesn’t mean implementation will be easy, or without resistance. Airbnb has itself waded into the fray, claiming that its guests contributed €780 million to the city’s economy last year. The conservative press, meanwhile, has been highlighting the possible discontents of the law, including landlords with just one listing, or people who are renting their apartments while absent from the city, but who prefer short-term to long-term tenants because they may have to return home on short notice.
The reality may be a little more nuanced, however, as many landlords are in fact companies holding substantial portfolios of listings—one host that until recently was purporting to be a local woman called “Claudia” actually possesses 220 rental units in the city. Given the difficulty that other cities such as Berlin have had enforcing such bans, monitoring and removing potentially tens of thousands of apartments from the Madrid vacation market may be a laborious and frequently contested process. Madrid’s new plans could still do much to stop the rot.