7 August 2015 – Expansión
Tourism in Barcelona / Colau will forgive 80% of the fines imposed on the most centrally-located unlicenced apartments if their owners agree to allow the properties to be used by the town hall (for social housing) for three years.
Curbing tourist “speculation” was one of the most-repeated slogans quoted by Ada Colau, the mayoress of Barcelona, during her election campaign. After suspending the opening of new hotels and hostels for a whole year across the entire city, now it is the turn of a new battery of measures, which will affect a key sector for the Catalan capital’s economy, tourism.
On Wednesday, the town hall reported that it is going to launch a pilot plan in the Ciutat Vella district – the most central area of the city – aimed at the owners of unlicenced tourist apartments who have been fined repeatedly in recent years.
In exchange for writing off 80% of their cumulative fines, the town hall will offer them the opportunity to place their apartments at the disposal of the town hall for a period of three years, which will then award them to families in situations of social emergency under rental agreements. If owners grant their properties for a longer period, then the town hall may write off 100% of their fines. Once the fines have been repaid, the apartment owners will receive the rent directly from the families.
From 15 September, the town hall will start to inform fined owners about this option for dealing with their penalties.
For the time being, the initiative will focus on 330 property owners, whose fining procedures have been completed. There are more illegal apartments whose penalties are still being processed, but for now the initiative will not affect them. On average, fines amount to €15,000 per property owner, but according to the law, they may reach up to €90,000.
As part of its measures to combat the new “speculative bubble”, the town hall has also announced that it will fine any digital platforms that advertise tourist flats without a licence from September.
The town hall explicitly cited two websites that account for 80% of the supply, Airbnb and Booking, and asked them to provide information to identify the apartments they advertise, so that checks can be completed to see which properties have licences and which do not.
Ada Colau’s team also warned the online platforms that they should include the licence numbers of the apartments they advertise. If they do not collaborate, they will be subject to significant fines, in accordance with the ruling legislation. They also stated that not all illegal apartments have been fined yet due to a lack of “political will”.
The platform Airbnb said in a statement that the fines that have been announced “create confusion” and represent “a step back” in terms of the regulation of the sector.
The opposition parties, CiU and PP described the measures announced as “smoke (and mirrors)” and accused Colau of taking decisions for show (i.e just for the sake of being seen to do something) and C’s asked the town hall not to “blackmail” property owners. ERC rejected the idea to write off fines because it “rewards” those who have not held licences for years. The PSC saw the announcement as a positive move, but called for more inspections.
Original story: Expansión (by David Casals)
Translation: Carmel Drake