Amsterdam Airbnb listings set to decline sharply in illegal rental crack down

About 700 of over 3,900 Amsterdam Airbnb listings are illegal hotels and should be removed from the site, the city said

The number of Amsterdam home and room rentals available on Airbnb is set to decline sharply as the local government aims to remove illegal hotel listings from the accommodation service.

An initial scan of the site concluded that about 700 of the more than 3,900 Amsterdam homes and rooms for rent on Airbnb are definitely illegal hotels, said Steven Schotte, spokesman of Amsterdam city Councillor Freek Ossel, who is responsible for housing, on Tuesday.

"There are people listed [on Airbnb] that rent more than 14 apartments, that is not allowed," he said. "We don't want them to be a platform for illegal hotels," he added.

Officials of Airbnb met with Ossel last Friday to discuss illegal rentals listed on the website, Schotte said. At the meeting, which was first reported by the local newspaper het Parool, Airbnb said it was willing to work with the city to remove listings for illegal rentals, he said.

Airbnb however, is not willing to start policing the site itself, Schotte said. So that task falls to the government. Listings for illegal hotels will be forwarded to Airbnb, he said.

While Airbnb said it was willing to work with the government because it doesn't want to be a platform for rogue hoteliers, no definite arrangement between the company and the city was made on Friday. "This was a first meeting," said Schotte, adding that Airbnb still has to discuss the implementation of the proposed measures internally.

The city of Amsterdam has been cracking down on illegal hotels since June last year and said at the beginning of this month that it is using sites like Airbnb and its competitor Wimdu as a source of tips about illegal rental properties. Illegal hotels are often unsafe and a nuisance for neighborhoods that have to deal with more noise and garbage in the streets, and are an "extremely lucrative business," conducted at the expense of residents, businesses and regular hoteliers, according to the city.

Airbnb did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, but it said in a post on its public policy blog at the beginning of this month that it "is committed to working collaboratively with governments at all levels to ensure that our members bring a range of benefits to the communities they inhabit."

The city of Amsterdam will focus on illegal renters who are permanently removing apartments from the city's housing market, Schotte said. Amsterdam is not planning to go after individuals who rent their apartments once or twice a year, the so-called peer-to-peer renters, Schotte said.

"But we do want them to pay tourism taxes," Schotte said. Tourism tax has to be paid by accommodation owners when they rent to non-Amsterdam citizens, Schotte said. The tourism tax in Amsterdam is 5.5 percent of a business' lodging turnover, not including breakfast.

Individuals in Amsterdam are allowed to rent out homes they own as bed-and-breakfasts (B&Bs) if they abide by certain rules. The B&B, for instance, must be registered with the city in advance, can accommodate a maximum of four people, the person renting the home must keep business records and only 40 percent of the floor area of the house can be used for B&B activities.

Airbnb has said it was willing to start informing site users about Amsterdam's renting rules, according to Schotte. Airbnb could, for instance, show pop-ups warning renters they should pay tourism taxes, he added. The city is -- for the moment -- not planning to enforce this mandatory taxation for individual renters, he said.

"We don't want a to create a jungle of rules," Schotte said, adding that the city is looking for ways to deal with this relatively new "social traveling" phenomenon and therefore initiated the talks with Airbnb.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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