Airbnb removes municipal apartments in Vienna from platform

Austria: Airbnb has announced that it will remove all listings in municipal buildings – Gemeindebau – in Vienna and implement a raft of measures to facilitate “responsible tourism” in the Austrian capital.

It follows the City of Vienna’s lawsuit victory against Airbnb in May, meaning that city-owned apartments in the city would no longer be available for subletting on platforms such as Airbnb, and the ruling has now been made legally binding.

The home-sharing platform said in a statement: “Airbnb shares the goal of the City of Vienna to protect living space – especially in municipal housing – and is therefore removing listings in municipal housing from the platform as part of a voluntary initiative.”

Vienna-based Wiener Wohnen, Europe’s largest public housing management service with almost 250,000 apartment rentals, previously banned its tenants from subletting via Airbnb although the rules were not always followed.

Having previously requested that the Viennese authorities report individual rule-breaking listings rather than specific addresses, Airbnb has now agreed to take down municipal apartment listings, unless the listings explicitly state that they are not owned by the city. The Vienna Commercial Court ruled that blocking specific listings would not be feasible.

Airbnb has also agreed to the introduction of a range of measures in Vienna, including:

  • Airbnb will regularly inform its hosts in Vienna that accommodation in municipal housing should not be sublet and those who break the rules will be removed from the platform. 
  • Airbnb will grant the city of Vienna access to the Airbnb city portal as its first partner in Austria. In this way, city authorities can inform the platform of any suspect listings that may be violating the ban on subletting apartments in municipal housing.
  • A nationwide digital registration process will be implemented for all Airbnb hosts in Austria. Similar to the existing systems that have been set up in the Netherlands, France and Spain, Airbnb will work alongside the EU Commission to provide regular rental statistics from cities in Austria, and tax data will continue to be shared with the country’s Ministry of Finance.
  • A telephone hotline is to be launched, meaning that neighbours, tenants or owners can report suspected illegal rentals or excessively loud parties discreetly to Airbnb.

Vienna Housing Councillor Kathrin Gaál told Der Standard that she was in favour of the new measures, but said that she was waiting to see if there would be “consistent action” to prevent the illegal subletting of social housing in the future.

Meanwhile, Ellen Madeker, head of public policy for the DACH region, CEE & Russia, at Airbnb, told Vienna.at: “The pandemic has changed our travel behaviour and a rethink is taking place. This is our joint opportunity to strengthen sustainable and responsible tourism in Austria and the industry to make it sustainable.”

In a previous bid to reduce ‘over-tourism’, the city of Vienna amended its Tourism Promotion Act to make it mandatory for hosts to pay taxes on their income from short-term rentals, no matter how many days they were renting out for in a year.

For ten consecutive years between 2009 and 2019, Vienna was named as the best place in the world for the quality of life and corporate relocation purposes by Mercer’s Quality of Living Index. However, with demand for housing and short-term tourist accommodation on the rise, the city is concerned that it will lose its title and become less desirable for travellers as a result.

In 2019, Vienna joined forces with nine other European cities [Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Bordeaux, Brussels, Krakow, Munich, Paris and Valencia] to appeal to the European Union to limit the proliferation of short-term rentals and help them manage critical local housing shortages by protecting their ability to regulate.

That December, though, Airbnb secured a crucial legal victory when the Court of Justice of the European Union [CJEU] in Luxembourg determined that the platform should be classified as an “information society service” rather than as a property broker. This meant that Airbnb would not be required to comply with the same regulations applied to property agents in the EU.

Tensions rose once again in March 2020 when the mayors of 22 European cities added their voices to calls for the EU to improve its regulation of short-term rental platforms and to establish a new legislative framework on the information society services for the current context.

The mayors of Athens, Bologna, Cologne, Florence, Frankfurt, Helsinki, London, Milan, Porto, Prague, Utrecht and Warsaw joined the aforementioned cities to demand:

  • Platforms to be forced to share relevant data with municipal administrations in order to enforce the law;
  • Wherever national or local holiday properties registration plans are implemented, platforms to be forced to post the registration numbers for their ads and to remove ads that do not have a valid registration number;
  • Platforms to be obliged to comply with and enforce national and local laws. In other words, the cities want to hold the platforms accountable for failure to comply with the local and national law of the member state they operate in, and not only in those states where they are legally based.

Now, with local population and housing prices on the rise, Vienna appears to have got its way. The EU, meanwhile, is reported to be consulting on regulating the short-term rental market across the bloc, with the option of a single set of pan-European rules being considered.