Vienna claims lawsuit victory over Airbnb

Austria: The City of Vienna has won a lawsuit against Airbnb in a ruling that municipal apartments in the Austrian capital will not be available for subletting, although the verdict is not yet legally binding.

Vienna is the latest major European city to set out to establish clear rules for online rental platforms, following in the the footsteps of the likes of Amsterdam, Venice, Florence and Paris this year.

The city’s Housing Municipal Service currently operates around 220,000 public housing units and rents them out to citizens at affordable rates. However, rental agreements between the city and tenants explicitly state that municipal apartments cannot be sublet to anyone else, whether it is through online platforms such as Airbnb or not.

Deputy mayor for housing, Kathrin Gaal, said: “Anyone who knowingly exploits a breach of contract by third parties is personally liable under federal law against unfair competition.”

It is believed that Airbnb had been asked multiple times to remove all listings of municipal apartments from its portal since the start of last year, and the complaint to Vienna’s Commercial Court was made when the home-sharing platform failed to carry out the requests.

However, Airbnb has stated not only that it would appeal against the decision to ban short-term rental listings in the capital, but that it would not be feasible to find and block them all, at least without the city’s support.

Gaal disputed the claim, saying: “It is absolutely reasonable for platforms like Airbnb to consistently support the city in its work against the improper subletting of public housing apartments. It is inefficient if city employees have to check every advertisement on Airbnb individually – and in many cases it is even not possible.

“Our clear goal is therefore that Airbnb blocks all addresses in the community building for renting,” she added.

The court judgment read: “The defendant [Airbnb] is guilty of immediately refraining from distributing offers for renting and / or subletting apartments of the City of Vienna, whose addresses are known to the defendant, worldwide on the Internet, in particular via mobile apps or websites, especially under the domains airbnb.at or airbnb.com.”

In response, an Airbnb spokeswoman said: “We take the protection of living space in Vienna very seriously and would like to support the city of Vienna in protecting municipal housing. We will now consider how we can find a joint solution and would like to continue to work constructively with the City of Vienna.”

City of Vienna authorities will present their demands for regulating short-term rental platforms to the Economic Committee of the Committee of the Regions [CoR] on 22 October.