Good reviews spell bad legal news for Airbnb host

The subletting of low-income rental houses is a growing problem, real estate agent says

Good reviews are generally a welcome thing for Airbnb hosts, but in an Amsterdam court case they provided evidence leading to the eviction of a man who was subletting a rental home intended for low-income tenants.

The case points to a growing issue: the use of Airbnb in a manner that breaks housing regulations.

The man has to leave his house within two weeks, the Amsterdam District Court ruled. On top of that, he has to pay a fine of more than €7,500 (about US$8,400) as well as €6,400 investigation costs to Rappange Makelaardij, the real estate agency working for the private owner of the house. Adding administration and litigation expenses, the man is responsible for paying more than €20,000 on costs related to the case.

The court issued its ruling on Friday, disclosing it to the media on Monday on the condition that the name of the man not be disclosed.

The court evicted the man because his contract forbids him to sublet his "social housing" rental home.

The evicted man rented out his home through Airbnb for 130 days, said Floris Havelaar, a lawyer who represented Rappange. Online reviews helped to prove how long the property was rented out via Airbnb, he said, adding that in positive reviews, people said that they "had seven wonderful days" in the house and thanked the tenant for the "super stay."

Lawyers working on behalf of real-estate firms are preparing several other, similar cases, including lawsuits that do not involve Rappange, Havelaar said.

Rappange's head of rental management, Robert Beekman, welcomed the verdict and said subletting social housing through Airbnb is a growing problem in Amsterdam. Social housing is meant for low income tenants and not for people to sublet it for triple the original rent, he said.

Another big issue with Airbnb subletting is that it often coincides with a lot of disturbances, certainly in Amsterdam where houses are relatively old and as a result not very sound proof, Beekman said. What's more, most tourists use a home differently then people who live there, as they for instance go out most nights of the week and are probably more of a nuisance than a regular tenant, Beekman said. He hoped the verdict would put off social renters who want to sublet their house through Airbnb.

Lawyers and real estate agents are not the only ones who say that Airbnb listings are good source to weed out abuse of housing regulations. The Amsterdam government has used Airbnb listings to find illegal hotels in the city since 2013. The city of Amsterdam does allow people to rent out their own homes to tourists occasionally, provided that they abide by certain rules.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation 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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