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Can Barcelona really ban all Airbnbs?

Alex Dunham
Alex Dunham - [email protected]
Can Barcelona really ban all Airbnbs?
The reflection of a tourist is seen next to a sticker reading "Fuck Airbnb". (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Barcelona’s mayor recently announced plans to get rid of all tourist flats in the next four years as a means of controlling rent hikes. It’s the most drastic measure so far in Spanish cities’ battle against Airbnb - but will it actually happen?

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In late June, Barcelona mayor Jaume Collboni made national headlines when he announced plans to revoke the licence of more than 10,000 tourist apartments in the Catalan capital. 

It would “be like building 10,000 new homes,” Collboni argued, alluding to Spain’s need to build huge amounts of social housing to counteract the shortage and price rise of regular long-term rentals for locals. 

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Tourism’s impact on Barcelona and the subsequent animosity from residents has been around for over a decade, whereas in other places where anti-mass tourism protests have been held, such as Málaga and Canary Islands, it’s a more recent phenomenon. 

READ ALSO: 'It kills the city' - Barcelona's youth protest against mass tourism

So it’s perhaps no surprise that the Catalan city is the first place in the country to truly aim at cutting out tourist apartments altogether. 

Spain’s Housing Minister Isabel Rodríguez has lauded Collboni’s “bravery” in the fight against the proliferation of tourism lets (up by 60,000 new Airbnb-style beds in just a year in Spain). 

However, there are plenty of voices which oppose the move to make Barcelona holiday let free.

“It’s unconstitutional,” Marian Muro, president of Barcelona Association of Tourist Apartments, told business daily Expansión.

“What Barcelona City Council is doing is expropriating the rights of the holders of tourist licences,” she claimed. 

Apartur is planning legal action against the measure on three levels: through the Constitutional Court, the administrative court and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

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According to Muro, Collboni knows that the legislation he’s promised will be “revoked”, and criticises that “no analysis or study has been provided” to justify the move. 

Her association has also told the Spanish press that Barcelona stands to lose “up to 40 percent of its tourists” with said blanket ban.

Collboni’s right-hand man Jordi Valls, in charge of economy and tourism at the city council, has openly admitted that “it’s clear that there will be a legal battle”, adding that “sectors linked to tourist flats appeal to compromise but also threaten legal battles”.

“Amsterdam and New York are doing it, all cities impacted by tourism are trying to get residential harmony to exist again,” Valls told national radio RNE. 

The key for him is to strike a balance between housing being a “financial asset” and serving a “social function”.

“We can’t give up on controlling it,” Valls concluded.

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Crucially, the Barcelona councillor has said that since the tourist apartment ban was announced on June 21st, the sale of flats with tourist rental licences has fallen, something also reported in Catalan daily El Periódico, which stated that such sought-after properties were selling for €100,000 above the standard appraisal. 

For economics professor at Barcelona University Gonzalo Bernardos, tourist flats don’t represent enough of Spain’s housing market for a ban to have a sufficient impact.

"Eighty percent of tourist flats in Catalonia are owned by people with just that flat", Bernardos claimed on La Sexta, so the ban would not have a great impact on "large investment funds or people who want to speculate" with property prices.

READ ALSO: VUT, AT or VV? Why Spain's holiday let categories matter to owners

Barcelona’s progressive revocation of tourist let licences until 2028 may be endorsed by local and national authorities currently, but it will be a struggle for them to win the many legal battles they are set to face in the coming years from groups with financial interests in the Airbnb market.

Last year, the European Parliament approved new data-sharing rules that clamp down on illegal short-term rentals, as a means of protecting residents of European cities who face shortages of affordable housing.

However, EU lawmakers have not yet considered a blanket ban on Airbnb. 

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights does state that “The use of property may be regulated by law in so far as is necessary for the general interest”, but completely eliminating the right of Spaniards and Europeans to let out their homes to tourists will be a monumental task. 

READ ALSO: Good tourists, bad tourist - How to travel responsibly in Spain

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