City officials move to curb housing shortage by restricting online rental market to shared accommodation only

By Jamie Thomson

It’s not been a great week for Airbnb – only days after New York community leaders accused the firm of  “ravaging” black neighbourhoods and contributing to a housing crisis in the city, they have found themselves seriously restricted in Berlin, Germany.

In a bid to halt a housing supply shortage and exponential rent increases, city officials have moved to outlaw short-term rentals of entire apartments and houses via Airbnb and other online portals such as Wimdu and 9Flats.

Beginning this month, Berlin will enforce a new law known as Zweckentfremdungsverbot, which Andreas Geisel, Berlin’s head of urban development, insists is “a necessary and sensible instrument against the housing shortage in Berlin”.

“I am absolutely determined to return such misappropriated apartments to the people of Berlin and to newcomers,” he told German news site The Local.

Rents in the city rose 56 percent between 2009 and 2014, and, in a pattern repeated around the globe, many property owners have chosen to shun long-term tenants in favour of the more lucrative holiday letting market. However, those who continue to do so in Berlin could face fines of up to 100,000 euros (A$150,000), though they will be free to offer rooms and other forms of shared accommodation via websites.

Airbnb implored the city elders to reconsider their decision, citing instances where other local authorities in Europe have ruled in the company’s favour.

“Berliners want clear and simple rules for home sharing, so they can continue to share their own home with guests,” says spokesperson Julian Trautwein. “We will continue to encourage Berlin policy-makers 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.”

Australia’s strata managers, hoteliers and pro and anti- Airbnbers will no doubt be watching these developments with interest, reminding legislators that far from “sharing their homes” in Australia’s major cities, up to 65 percent of Airbnb lets are for the entire dwelling, with the so-called  “hosts” nowhere to be seen.

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