The Airbnb backlash is gathering force in Hamburg and Berlin [Source: Reuters]

Hamburg and Berlin tightening the screw on Airbnb users in their cities

Germany: Governments in Hamburg and Berlin are leading the regulatory charge against Airbnb in the wake of a European backlash against the online rental platform.

Hamburg has slashed permitted annual rentals per property from 180 days to 60, while raising fines tenfold. Berlin, meanwhile, has implemented a registration scheme to control Airbnb rentals in which holdouts could be fined €250,000 ($284,000).

One of the main motivations is to ensure the appropriate taxes are collected as cities such as London, Dublin and Paris introduce annual rental caps while Barcelona now takes data directly from Airbnb to enforce its own tax and zoning enforcement laws.

However, Germany’s finance ministry has remained tight-lipped on the matter on its website and in parliament when questioned by the opposition Left Party.

The ministry said: “There are currently no plans for talks with Airbnb on taxation issues.”

Earlier this year, it had seemed things were changing. Media reports in May suggested that the Federal Central Tax Office, the government agency responsible for enforcing the tax code, had written to Airbnb’s European headquarters in Ireland, demanding data on hosts’ earnings to check them against tax records.

But the finance ministry, which oversees the Tax Office, has refused to answer questions on that information request. It remains unclear what exactly was requested and what, if any, information was provided.

In Hamburg, which has two million Airbnb vacation rentals rented out every year, there has been deep resentment within the hotel industry at what it sees as unfair competition.

Airbnb hosts do not currently pay the ‘culture and tourism’ tax that Hamburg hotels are obligated to collect but the president of the city’s hotel association, Franz Klein, expressed satisfaction that the city was starting to crack down on the tax issue.

Klein said: “Modern communications media are being used to evade tax laws.”

The Left Party finance spokesman, Fabio De Masi, said he believed the solution was to ensure that Airbnbs are not listed unless they have a registered tax number and that all information on rentals is sent directly to the relevant tax authorities.

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