Berlin controls informal rentals

Berlin is clamping down on the informal holiday rental market encouraged by websites such as Airbnb on the grounds that it having a detrimental effect on hotels and other official forms of tourist accommodation in the capital city.

Apartment owners now wanting to let their apartments or parts of their apartments for short periods will have to apply for a licence or risk a fine of €50,000. However the primary place of residence is exempt. It is estimated that about 15,000 apartments may be affected.

Airbnb, which is based in San Francisco, claims that it operates in 34,000 locations in 152 countries worldwide with about 300,000 places to stay. In Berlin, where it has been operating for about two years, its website lists some 10,000 places. It and similar websites such as 9flats and Wimdu charge a commission to either the owner or the renter or both.

The going rate in Berlin per night listed on the Airbnb site is about €50 for a room and €80 for a whole apartment, considerably lower than rates in a hotel or pensione. The hotel association has complained these peer-to-peer sites are responsible for the loss of about 87 million nights a year.

Opponents of such sites also claim that these informal rentals in Berlin are taking properties off the longer term rental market and pushing up prices. According to one German real estate website ImmobilienScout24 rents in Berlin rose 8.3 per cent between October 2012 and 2013 compared with 3.6 per cent for the rest of the country.

However it is also possible that these peer-to-peer private short-term rentals have encouraged a different sort of tourism, therefore increasing rather than cutting into the overall market. The tourist market in Berlin was up 9 per cent between 2012 and 2013, and the city had a record year with 1.1 million visitors.