Paris, one of the world’s most visited cities, is stepping up its crackdown on illegal vacation rentals.
As in New York and Barcelona, officials in the French capital say companies such as Airbnb Inc. have spawned a cottage industry of scofflaw landlords who are cheating citizens out of housing and depriving localities of much-needed revenue from the growth in international travel.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has a 20-person team making unannounced visits to apartments whose owners are suspected of, or turned in by nosy neighbors for, unlawfully renting to visitors. Her office also is considering a tax on such person- to-person transactions.
“We can’t have entire neighborhoods or buildings turned into tourist homes,” Ian Brossat, Hidalgo’s housing adviser, said in an interview. “That’s why we’re fighting to keep Parisians inside Paris and we won’t let tourist rentals eat up their space.”
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Paris’s fight against the expanding business is the latest attempt to curb a development housing advocates say drives up residential rents. They rose 42 percent in the decade to 2013, according to government-funded research.
More than 32 million tourists came to Paris last year. Among them, 15.5 million were foreign visitors, according to the regional tourism board. That compares with New York City’s 11.4 million international visitors and London’s 16.8 million, based on the municipalities’ statistics.
In New York, Airbnb, the short-term room rental service for travelers, complied with a state probe to provide data on its hosts, with personally identifiable information removed.
Catalonia, the home region of Barcelona, fined Airbnb for failing to register rentals with the provincial tourism authority. In the U.K., the hotel-industry association said unregulated rentals put visitors’ health and security at risk.
San Francisco-based Airbnb, whose last fundraising round valued it at $10 billion, says it’s the biggest rental service in Paris with about 25,000 postings this year, or 83 percent of the total. Sejourning.com, a French site with 2,000 listings in Paris, caters mainly to short-term domestic travelers and isn’t concerned about illegal vacation rentals, founder Francois de Landes said.
Airbnb says it contributes to local economies in part by attracting travelers who might not stay at hotels.
“We are not in charge of tourism or housing in Paris,” said Emmanuelle Flahault-Franc, Airbnb’s spokeswoman in Paris. “Airbnb helps fill the gap left by the lodging shortage.”
She says 1 million visitors have used its service in France since 2008, half of them in 2013 alone; usage is up 176 percent this year from last. France is Airbnb’s second biggest market after the U.S., and Europe represents half the company’s sales, according to Airbnb. The company, which is closely held, declined to give sales figures.
For the world’s major tourist hubs, getting control of holiday rentals is also key to collecting more taxes. A room tax under consideration in Paris for private-home vacation rentals would follow a February law allowing city inspectors to check inside rental homes.
Hidalgo’s squad made 400 inspections last year and is accelerating this year. Five landlords were fined in 2013, each 25,000 euros. In the first six months of 2014, the city fined 10 landlords and another 13 are under investigation, according to Brossat’s office.
Hidalgo has the backing of the hotel industry, which sees Airbnb chipping away its business territory through what it calls unfair competition. Tourism generated 7.3 percent of the French gross domestic product in 2012 and foreign tourists spent 42 billion euros that year, according to the government.
The French capital has more than 80,000 hotel rooms, according to the Paris Tourism Office. That’s slightly less than London and New York City, which each host more than 100,000 bedrooms according to the Greater London Authority and New York’s official tourism organization.
France is the most visited country globally before the U.S., China and Spain, with 83 million tourists, according to the World Tourism Organization.
Hidalgo made affordable housing for local residents the priority for her six-year term. The crackdown on tourist rentals is one side of her work.
“It’s simple math: A studio on Airbnb can be 1,000 euros a week. That’s four times the price usually paid by a Parisian,” Brossat said. “We’re fighting to keep the middle class in town, they are the heartbeat of the city.”