Op-ed by Jeroen Merchiers, Managing Director EMEA
Berlin introduced new rules earlier this year that should make it easier for Berliners to share their homes while preserving housing stock. Following years of confusion, numerous court cases and political processes, homesharers in Berlin finally got the news they had been waiting for – according to the law they will be given permits to share their homes.
That change is important and long-overdue. Across the far corners of this city, people are occasionally welcoming guests into their homes. It allows locals to boost their income, provides visitors to Berlin with more accommodation options than just hotels, and spreads tourism throughout the city and outside the typical tourist hotspots. It’s an economic engine that truly allows locals to benefit from visitors to their city, and new rules help differentiate these local families who make some extra money when welcoming guests into their homes from professional operators.
But as Berliners rush to get permits ahead of a pending August 1 deadline, it’s clear that the system is in chaos. Contrary to the objectives of the law, it is still difficult for home sharers to apply for a permit without housing being protected by this.
So far the Senate has neither released an updated by-law nor a comprehensive guidance to help district authorities and the Berlin citizens understand the new rules and how they should handle permit requests in the new homesharer-friendly light of the new law. And currently not all districts seem to follow the guidelines provided so far on the City’s website. This lack of clarity means every district interprets the rules differently, and homesharers in Mitte are being treated differently to their neighbours in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg or Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf.
This lack of clarity is likely to also be driving the lengthy and stressful delays that many Berliners are experiencing with their applications – up to three months. It might also be behind the vast inconsistencies in documentation hosts are being asked to provide with their applications – including flight tickets, gas receipts, landlord permissions, written records of every guest, and exact dates of absence months ahead.
Considering the long waiting times for registrations the grace period of just three months during summer vacation time is too short and home sharers are deterred from the beginning on by the complicated approval process. We will see thousands of regular Berliners now face the very real prospect of being on the wrong side of a permit process that no one understands.
At Airbnb, we take the new rules very seriously, which is why we are doing everything in our power to make them work. We have rolled out an extensive information campaign on various channels to inform hosts about the new rules and their respective obligations and are holding meet-ups with citizens from across the city.
But we want to do more and contribute to a functioning permit- and registration process. That is why we recently renewed our offer to the Berlin Senate to support the implementation of the new law with a joint, digital permit- and registration system. Regular Berliners who want to share their homes would be able to get permits more easily, and district authorities could obtain the necessary data directly from the hosts with less red tape. Through a digital interface on the platform, the city could effectively distinguish between home sharers and professional providers and decide on permits without delay. Homesharer could then do – without waiting time – what they are legally entitled to and what they love to do: to host. Such a system already works at other places that work together with Airbnb.
And we don’t want to stop there – we also offered the City to automate the payment of city taxes and help make this system simpler for everyone, like we already are in more than 400 cities, including Dortmund and from 1 August onwards also Frankfurt. Unfortunately, the Senate Department of Finance has rejected our offer.
Already we have worked with more than 500 governments around the world on measures to help hosts share their homes and follow the rules, including examples of registration systems that are easy to follow and working well.
Airbnb will continue to do its utmost to inform the Berlin hosts about the new rules to help Berlin to make the system work. But Berlin needs an unbureaucratic and functioning permit- and registration system to prevent that those are affected most who were supposed to be supported by the new law – regular Berliners whose apartments would not be available to the long-term housing market anyway. That’s where we want to help. Making it difficult for thousands of Berliners to share their home while not protecting housing cannot be in the interest of a modern and cosmopolitan city like Berlin and will not lead to the desired effect of the law.