Do you remember when Airbnb and other “homestay” websites seemed like an uncomplicatedly great idea? In Europe’s major cities, those days now feel like a long time ago. Lately in Paris, Berlin, and Barcelona, vacation apartments and the agencies that market them are being tagged as the germ behind a range of urban ills. They deprive locals of apartments for permanent rent, the argument goes, and may thus push up prices for the units that do remain on the market. And in areas full of such apartments, locals can feel harassed by the endless stream of rolling suitcases banging up communal staircases, or by drunken idiots screeching and vomiting by night.
Laying all this at the door of a website may seem a little crude. In Barcelona, an Airbnb spokesperson pointed out that its total listings constituted less than two percent of the city’s housing stock, and thus could hardly be blamed alone for affordable housing shortages. It’s still hard to deny that vacation rentals can be an exacerbating factor in inner city housing issues, and that popular resentment against them is increasingly widespread. In Barcelona, such anger has spilled over into street protests, and city halls across Europe are now introducing laws to curb the number of apartments reserved for short-stay tenants.