Barcelona Takes the Wind Out of Airbnb’s Sails

  • City hall says platform must remove listings without a license
  • Airbnb aimed for truce with authorites amid public backlash

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Barcelona’s city hall rejected a proposal by Airbnb Inc. to limit the number of home rentals in the city, setting off a fresh clash between the platform and local authorities vowing to clamp down on unregulated tourism.

The city hall said the plan to limit home listings in the central Barcelona area of Ciutat Vella doesn’t go far in enough in tackling the use of unlicensed rentals for tourists. While Airbnb hoped the new limits would ease tensions after a year marred by sanctions and public backlash from locals complaining about crowds in central Barcelona, the city hall said Airbnb must stop advertising all properties without a license while adding that it would keep sanctions against the home-rental platform unchanged.

“Airbnb’s response is a joke,” said Agusti Colom, Barcelona’s councilor for companies and tourism, at a press conference on Tuesday after the plan was made public. “The law is clear. You can’t advertise tourist apartments on these platforms if they don’t have a license number, so what Airbnb needs to do is to remove them.”

A spokesperson for Airbnb said the company was disappointed by the city hall’s response, but will continue to work with authorities in Barcelona to find common ground, citing cities including London, Lisbon and Paris as places where both parties have reached an accord on home-sharing rules.

Airbnb’s business in the city has almost doubled in two years, rising to 20,000 listings from 11,000 in 2014. Barcelona is now the fourth-biggest city for Airbnb rentals in Europe behind Paris, London and Rome and the ninth-biggest in the world. As many as 900,000 people used Airbnb to arrange accommodation in Barcelona in 2015, according to the company.

Even so, its rapid growth has aggravated city authorities who slapped a 600,000-euro ($644,160) fine on Airbnb in November for advertising what they deemed to be illegal room rentals, becoming the first city to do so. Barcelona accused the company of posting 3,812 unlicensed rentals, a practice the city’s Mayor Ada Colau described as intolerable. Airbnb will appeal the fine.

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