Barcelona’s campaign against holiday lettings: Inspectors use lockdown to identify paperwork irregularities they can exploit to revoke some 500 tourist rental licences in the city

barcelona tourist rental licence
Barcelona’s Gracia district is a holiday-rental hotspot

It seems that Barcelona’s tourist rental flat inspectors were not at home with their feet up during lockdown. They appear to have spent the time cross referencing databases, and checking files, to find paperwork irregularities that can be used to justify revoking holiday rental licences, and get more homes back into the long-term rental market.

The local press reports that inspectors discovered more than 500 flats with licences that should never have been granted because the paperwork was not perfectly in order. This is part of a drive by Barcelona City hall to review all outstanding licences to check they are all valid.

Inspectors reviewed around 1,000 short-stay tourist letting licences issued in 2014, when the Mayor was Xavier Trias, from the nationalist right-of-centre CiU / CDC* party that was not hostile to tourist rentals, but who was soon kicked out of power by Ada Colau and her hard-left Barcelona en Comú party, which is hostile to its core to tourism and holiday rentals. Ada Colau and her team have been on a mission to stamp out tourist rental flats in Barcelona ever since.

This latest tactic is part of that drive, which the hotel lobby will also love. City officials say that some 300 flats were found to have been issued tourist rental licenses despite not having a cédula de habitabilidad / habitation certificate at the time, which is a basic requirement of renting any property to anyone in any timeframe. It follows the owners must have falsified their applications by claiming a valid cédula where none such existed. It seems there were even cases of licences being issued to flats that had not even been built.

With an estimated 9,600 legal tourist rental flats in the city, mostly in the Eixample district, City Hall is trying to demonstrate that the clampdown on holiday rentals continues, even at a time when there are no tourists in the city thanks to Covid-19. “We want to send a clear and forceful message that you can’t play around with the city, nor can you trick it,” says Janet Sanz, councillor for Ecology, Urban Planning, Infrastructure and Mobility.

There were an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 illegal rentals back in 2015, but according to Sanz, “now that trend is closer to zero than any other figure.”

This new initiative to grab the headlines with a show of force against tourist rentals in the city comes hot on the heels of some chest-beating by Colau and her team threatening to expropriate empty flats in the city.

As I explained in my article Barcelona uses Covid-19 as pretext for expropriating empty homes in the city, but it’s not the real story, I think it’s just Colau posturing and making a lot of noise to fire up her base and cover up the dismal failure of her housing policies as regional elections loom on the horizon. Colau’s political party Podemos has just been thrashed in regional elections in Galicia and the Basque Country, so presumably she needs to get her base fired up, and make unsuspecting voters think she has actually achieved something on her signature issue of housing access when the Catalan elections come around.

* These days the names of the groups in this part of the Catalan political spectrum change so frequently it’s hard to keep track

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