Barcelona, Lisbon, and New York call for powers to control rental prices

Barcelona City Hall (Ayuntamiento)

Housing representatives from Barcelona, Lisbon, and New York city councils have signed a joint manifesto calling on their governments to give them more power to control rents to put a stop to what they call “excessive” house prices. To a lesser extent, similar policies are already in place in cities like Paris and Berlin. The current Barcelona Council has been calling for this since it came into office.

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Barcelona Council and the Catalonian regional government (the Generalitat) have been working on price guidelines for months. Council representatives have been to Berlin and Paris this year to meet their counterparts and see how they solve the problem, with a view to copying the solution.

Both Paris and Berlin introduced a law regulating rental prices in summer 2015. In Paris, the Alur law allows consumers to see if rental prices are fair market value or higher. If the rate is higher, the tenant can claim the difference from the landlord.

In Berlin, it wasn’t a council initiative, but regulations passed by the federal government and promoted by the Ministry of Justice. Berlin, along with Munich and Hamburg, is one of the cities to set up a rule under which the rental rate in every new rental contract cannot be more than 10% of the previous contract. In Berlin, rental contracts are valid for ten years.

New York, one of the cities that signed the manifesto together with Barcelona and Lisbon, has regulations in place since 2010 prohibiting rentals of shared apartments for less than 30 days. Also, over a million apartments in New York are subject to conditions such as rental rate stability or control. However, these apply only to apartments built before 1947 and that have been occupied since 1971.

The manifesto, called ‘The Right to Housing: Local Power, Global Power’ is signed by Brad Lander, responsible for housing in New York and Paula Marques and Laia Ortiz, housing officers in Lisbon and in Barcelona respectively. All three recognise the success and appeal of their cities, but point out that it puts “family and residents at risk”.

They claim tourism is behind rising rental prices because of holiday lets and short-term lets. The consequence has been, according to the manifesto, a growing “residential exclusion that ranges from families forced to move to the suburbs to the more extreme cases of homeless people”.

The manifesto was written to coincide with the Smart Cities Expo, held in Barcelona last week. At the congress, a working group on housing from the Eurocities network with representatives from Vienna, Amsterdam, Paris and London, shared experiences on housing. As an example, they used price regulation in the French capital, in place since last year.

Eurocities is made up of 140 European cities and Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona, has been the president for the last two years.

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