Is it legal to rent out your home for a few days to tourists? That’s the question posed by a recent article published by the Spanish daily El Pais, trying to make sense of the myriad regional laws that make such a mess of a common activity in Spain.
Adaptation and translation of an article published by El Pais.
Can you let your home to tourists on holiday for a few days in Spain? It depends on where you live. Until May 2013, few autonomous regions had any restrictions, and the national Urban Rentals Law allowed short-term holiday lets provided the owner declared the income. But two years ago, all this changed: the government excluded holiday lets from the national legislation, and invited the regions to legislate as they saw fit. Each one has approached it in a different way and furthermore, each region has had to allow room for individual councils, responsible for urban planning, to set their own limits. The end result? A hodgepodge of laws that allows or prohibits holiday lets separated by just a few miles.
Last April, more than 5.5 million foreigners visited Spain. According to statistics from the Ministry of Industry, 583,229 of them stayed in holiday rental homes, 20.4 per cent more than last year. The holiday rental option against hotels is also increasingly popular among the Spanish. Partly because supply has increased: joining the typical apart-hotels and holiday homes let by their owners for a few months a year, are more and more private owners who are even putting rooms in their homes on the rental market. The arrival of internet platforms such as Airbnb and HomeAway, who act as intermediaries, has boosted a supply that isn’t always legal.
“Letting a property to a tourist is nothing new. What has changed over the last few years is the way it’s done thanks to the internet,” says Eliseo Martínez, a partner at Aius + Aequitas Abogados legal firm, who acts on behalf of several owners’ associations. He points out that in Spain, the first legislation for holiday homes was instigated by Manuel Fraga in 1976. This was followed by several types of regulations until the one in 2013, which has “led to an avalanche of different rules” because it has meant that most regions have presented their own laws, or at least started preparing them. Some, such as the Valencian Community or Galicia, have left some margin for holiday lets by the day as long as owners register and comply with basic requirements. Others, such as the Canaries, limit holiday lets to areas where there are no hotels. And others, such as Madrid, have imposed a minimum of 5 consecutive nights’ rental for legal rentals.
The increase in supply has put the cat among the pigeons in the hotel sector. Exceltur, the association of large tourist companies, insists that regulations are needed to avoid “unfair competition” that puts accommodation on the market that isn’t subject to controls, or that does not invest in security regulations that, incidentally, are also different in each region. In the face of pressure from hotels, regulations on apartments multiply, which in turn has led property owners to create associations that act as lobbies in defence of their interests. “One of the biggest problems we have is that, as well as regional regulations, there are those imposed by local councils for planning reasons. And that means compliance is impossible,” complained Pablo Zubicaray, president of Fevitur, an association for holiday-rental homeowners, at a conference in Madrid a few weeks ago.
“It’s true there are many regulations, but this isn’t just a Spanish problem, It happens in many places in Europe and even in the US, because in tourism it’s usual for cities to be influential,” explains Arnaldo Muñoz, Airbnb’s representative in Spain. This digital platform that puts owners of holiday lets or rooms in contact with tourists is the one that raises most hackles in the sector, mainly because its market share is growing. Last year, 620,000 Spaniards used this website. And this year the figure is expected to double. Barcelona is the city with the greatest number of properties listed with Airbnb: 15,200.
“From Airbnb we send a note to our registered hosts every year reminding them that they should declare their rental income and pay income tax,” Muñoz claims. He chooses to be conciliatory. He says that they’re prepared to comply with the regulations in every city. Although they also aspire to influence – Muñoz talks of “converting” – to try to get laws conforming to models they believe to be the fairest.
A WEB OF DIFFERENT REGULATIONS
Holiday letting isn’t new, and nor are complaints of unfair competition from hotels. Each country has its own regulations, sometimes limited to a particular area. Arnaldo Muñoz, Airbnb’s representative, gives the example of Paris, which allows rentals linked to the collaborative economy. It allows inhabitants to let their home with no requirements (other than paying taxes) if they can show that it’s their principal home. A law passed in 2013 in Hamburg is similar – it’s legal to let a home with no restrictions or permits while the owners are on holiday.
In Spain, the government invitation to the regions to regulate holiday lets is based on a premise: the decision as to whether the property that’s a principal residence can be used as a holiday let.
One option is registration. Some regions, such as the Valencian Community and Aragon, have chosen to allow holiday lets, but they require the property to be registered. Catalonia also requires that the owners have a licence from their local council and Barcelona, for example, froze all new licence approvals last year.
Other regions leave little margin. The Canaries, for example, only allows holiday lets if the apartment is located outside the tourist areas. That means that the frontline beach is reserved for companies. The Balearics only allow private owners to let their home if it’s detached, and not part of a building with other neighbours.
Madrid’s course of action is, however, under appeal. The national Department of Competition (CNMV) appealed against Madrid’s decision to restrict tourist lettings to periods of five days or longer, which the CNMV suspects might be intended to give hotels an unfair advantage.
Spanish Property Insight adapts and translates selected articles from the local press for the benefit of non-Spanish speakers.
This translation is based on the following article (in Spanish): ¿Es legal alquilar la vivienda propia unos días a un viajero?