Supporters of Airbnb backlash in Vienna call for battle

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Supporters of the movement against restrictive Airbnb regulations in Austria gathered in central Vienna on Wednesday in protest against the city’s plans to impose stricter standards for the short-term rentals of apartments. At least 5,000 people, including hundreds of tourism officials, attended the rally and a separate rally was being planned for later in the day.

Vienna’s tourist board chairman Gitte Mayer warned that the new rules would force the short-term rental sector out of the city. “We are opposed to a vicious cycle,” she said, citing data showing that Airbnb has moved money from some parts of the city.

Among the laws on the table is a proposal that requires rental operators to pay a flat tax of 3 percent, covering airbnb owners that list 40 percent of their apartments. It comes after a number of Airbnb operators rented out unoccupied apartments and caught the eye of the city. The organization also plans to slap an additional, maximum €2,000 ($2,302) fee on anyone who rents out apartments in the city that don’t meet certain standards.

“A model which uses big business to improve housing policy — with a detrimental effect for civil rights — is good for the city as it keeps renting homes even if these homes are not rented to visitors.” — Thomas Schippert, head of party (Europe) group AOE AIX

The overhaul of the legislation also aims to boost competition and allow more apartments to be rented to tourists.

AOE (Austria, on the Left Party) — an umbrella organization of parties spanning the political spectrum — has denounced the new regulations. The group’s leader, Thomas Schippert, wrote in the La Stampa newspaper: “A model which uses big business to improve housing policy — with a detrimental effect for civil rights — is good for the city as it keeps renting homes even if these homes are not rented to visitors.”

While Austria’s right-wing government has supported the proposals, it has also expressed its own concerns over the negative effects the rental sector might have on the local housing market.

Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache told Bloomberg in July that they were concerned that Airbnb had become a “ticking time bomb” for the market. “The problem with [Airbnb] and all other such platforms is that this is an illegal practice and violates tax laws,” he said.

In the U.S., a number of cities have tried to regulate Airbnb and other similar short-term rentals by making the use of the service a commercial act. In San Francisco, for example, hosts are required to pay for licenses and to register with the city, in addition to performing a city-issued registration “Home Visit.”

In Copenhagen, Airbnb hosts are required to register with the city government if they use their home as a short-term rental — though it remains illegal to offer accommodations for fewer than 30 nights each year.

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