Berlin authorities crack down on Airbnb rental boom

Berlin began restricting private property rentals through Airbnb and similar online platforms on Sunday, threatening hefty fines in an attempt to keep housing affordable for local people.

Authorities in the German capital fear the trend for people to let apartments to tourists through sites such as Airbnb, Wimdu and 9Flats is cutting into a limited property supply and driving up rents.

A new law – Zweckentfremdungsverbot – has been described by Andreas Geisel, Berlin’s head of urban development, as “a necessary and sensible instrument against the housing shortage in Berlin … I am absolutely determined to return such misappropriated apartments to the people of Berlin and to newcomers”.

Rents in Berlin rose 56% between 2009 and 2014 but are low compared with other major European cities at about €10 (£8) a square metre this year.

As Berlin has become one of Europe’s top travel destinations, with 30.2m overnight stays last year, the Airbnb trend has affected the local hotel industry. According to research company GBI, the private online bookings represent a “parallel market of an additional 6.1m” overnight stays a year.

The law was passed in 2014 but gave a two-year transition period that ended on Saturday, when owners became limited to renting only rooms via such sites, not entire flats or houses. Offenders can face fines of up to €100,000.

The city has appealed to the “civic spirit” of residents, asking them to anonymously report suspected misuse online.

Tim Boening, 41, who rents out a loft in the trendy Kreuzberg district, said he was not shocked by the law, given practices he had seen. He cited “the nice couple with two small apartments who move in together to a bigger place and keep the two apartments to rent them out on Airbnb … I don’t think that’s good – it should be stopped.”

But a 48-year-old woman who did not want to give her name expressed fury about the change, having rented out four apartments near the city centre via Airbnb. She claimed the city was making Berliners pay for its failed housing policy while serving the needs of the hotel industry.

She was especially angry about the request to inform on offenders, saying that “in Germany, of all places, maybe we should reconsider this kind of thing”.

Airbnb Germany said: “Berliners want clear and simple rules for home sharing, so they can continue to share their own homes with guests. We will continue to encourage Berlin policymakers to listen to their citizens and to follow the example of other big cities such as Paris, London, Amsterdam or Hamburg and create new, clear rules for normal people who are sharing their own homes.”

Wimdu has filed a lawsuit, arguing the law breaches the constitution of Berlin. The owners of 9Flats told the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: “We face a law in Berlin that would drive us into bankruptcy.”

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