Amsterdam to allow occasional Airbnb vacation rentals

Airbnb renters should be paying tourism taxes and comply with fire regulations, the city said

Amsterdam authorities have conceded that people may rent out their rooms and houses on Airbnb as long as they don't do it all the time and abide by certain rules, the city government said on Friday.

Amsterdam's government is cracking down on illegal hotels and said in February that about 700 of the more than 3,900 homes and rooms for rent on Airbnb in Amsterdam were illegal hotels. While the city also said at the time it wasn't planning to go after individuals who rent their apartments a couple of times a year, the legal situation of Airbnb renters remained unclear.

Despite the sharp increase of this relatively new "social traveling" phenomenon, the impact is still limited, the city said in a news release. Since only 1 percent of all the homes in Amsterdam and 2 percent of overnight stays are booked this way the city deemed

this rental method "not disruptive" to the tourism and housing industries.

Social traveling stimulates tourism and a city's economy, allowing people to "live like a local" and makes Amsterdam an attractive destination, said the city board.

Amsterdam's board recently established rules that define how the city handles vacation rentals booked through sites like Airbnb, said Steven Schotte, spokesman for Freek Ossel, the city councillor who handles housing. The city said it will strictly monitor if people comply with the rules.

Individuals are allowed to rent all or part their homes if they don't disturb the neighborhood, Schotte said. Renters need to comply with fire safety regulations and have to pay tourism taxes, he said. They also should have consent from their landlords or homeowner association, he added.

The new rules are similar to the regulations that apply to bed-and-breakfasts (B&Bs), Schotte said. But B&B operators must register with the city, can only rent 40 percent of their home's floor area, keep business records and are only allowed to accommodate a maximum of four people. Additionally B&B owners must be present when renting out part of their properties, Schotte said.

Some of these rules can't apply to Airbnb-like bookings, Schotte said. "If you go on holiday and you rent out your house, you rent out the whole property of course," he said. Being present while renting out a house is also impossible in some cases, he added.

At the moment, Airbnb renters don't have to keep business records or register with the government, he said. But that might change in the future. "We are looking into that," Schotte said, adding that what is legally needed in the future to rent a room to social travelers will probably differ per case.

But the boundaries on when a home rented socially becomes an illegal hotel remain hazy since the city didn't set time limits. "We did not say: 20 days is within the boundaries and more than 20 days is not," said Schotte.

While the new rules give occasional vacation renters some legroom, the city still views about 20 percent of Airbnb's Amsterdam listings as illegal hotels, Schotte said. The city will crack down on illegal hoteliers who commercially rent fully equipped houses year round without a permit, he added.

Amsterdam and Airbnb officials met twice to discuss the city's grievances, Schotte said. Since then, Airbnb added warnings on the site alerting renters they should pay tourism taxes with links to Amsterdam regulation, Schotte said.

However, these warnings are not clear enough, Schotte said, adding that more changes should be made. Airbnb, for instance, could collect the tourism taxes for the city, but international regulations could make that difficult, he said. But Airbnb could add a link to a city Web portal where renters can pay the tourism taxes, he said.

Airbnb did not reply to a request for comment.

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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