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Europe wants Airbnb and pals to cough up rental property logs

Holiday property landlords' vacation from regulation is coming to an end

The EU proposed rules this week requiring Airbnb and similar companies to share with officials the identities of hosts renting houses and apartments to tourists.

It's hoped this data will give continental cities an idea of how much property is being used for the tourist trade – rather than as homes – at a time of housing shortages. Identifying when and where property is illegally rented out to visitors contrary to zoning is another aim.

European lawmakers also believe short-term rental businesses, which advertise homes and handle payment between hosts and travelers, should disclose to public authorities once a month the number of guests staying at individual properties, and the number of nights they stayed.

The system through which companies hand this info to agencies should be automatic, according to a proposal [PDF] published Monday. The rules would also force hosts to register their properties as rental homes targeted at tourists.

Upon registration, landlords would receive an official unique registration number. This system would also allow officials to identify and clamp down on unauthorized listings – homes that aren't allowed to be rented to visitors due to local regulations.

"The short-term accommodation rental sector has been boosted by the platform economy but has not developed with sufficient transparency," Margrethe Vestager, the EU's Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age, said in a statement. 

"With this proposal, we are making it easier for hosts and platforms, big or small, to contribute to greater transparency in the sector. These sector-specific rules will complement the general rules of the Digital Services Act, which establish a set of obligations and accountability requirements for platforms operating in the EU."

The move to regulate the short-term rental market comes as top European tourist destinations such as Paris and Barcelona suffer from lack of housing for people who want to live there. Although Airbnb properties attract and boost tourism, long-term residents struggle to find affordable places to live as available housing is offered just to tourists and visitors.

The European Commission hopes the proposed rules will, if passed, regulate the rental market, and provide more data to inform tourism and housing policies in the future. Building more homes and tackling NIMBYism would probably help, too – but what do we know?

Lawmakers believe the rules need to be passed since companies probably won't willingly hand over private data. "Limiting EU action to promoting voluntary action by the industry and certain accompanying measures is possible. It would probably not be effective, however, because it would rely on the industry's own willingness to change the status quo," the document states.

The proposal still needs to be discussed and voted on by the European Parliament and the European Council. If the rules pass, member states will have two years to develop the platforms needed to exchange the data.

"These proposals provide a framework for Airbnb to scale our collaborations with governments and make it easier for everyday Europeans to share their homes and follow the rules," Airbnb's head of EU public policy, Georgina Browes, said in a statement shared with Reuters. ®

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