Spain’s CNMC Takes Madrid, Bilbao & San Sebastián to Court Over Anti-Airbnb Legislation

7 August 2018 – El País

The competition authorities are cracking down on the attempt by some of Spain’s large Town Halls to regulate the boom in tourist apartments, created by Airbnb and its competitors, which many blame for contributing to an increase in residential rental prices and the expulsion of the most underprivileged from the centre of Spain’s cities. The National Markets and Competition Commission (CNMC) announced on Tuesday that it is going to challenge the urban planning rules approved recently in Madrid, Bilbao and San Sebastián on the basis that they violate “competition” and harm consumers and users. Other rules, not yet in force, in Barcelona and Valencia, could also be targetted by the CNMC, warn sources at the agency.

Imposing a compulsory licence on those who rent their homes to tourists. Limiting the types of properties that may be leased for short periods. They are some of the measures introduced by the Town Halls that the CNMC is now challenging. And the battle doesn’t stop there. New rules that other cities decide to approve may also clash with the opinion of the market regulator, which is now sending the cases of Madrid, Bilbao and San Sebastián to the High Court of their respective autonomous regions. They will have to decide whether to admit the appeals and overturn, in part or in whole, the municipal regulations.

The body chaired by José María Marín Quemada said that it has sent a request to the three municipalities to provide explanations regarding the “need and proportionality” of the restrictions or, failing that, for those restrictions to be annulled. In the absence of a satisfactory response, the CNMC will resort to the courts through a contentious-administrative appeal. The informal talks held so far have made very clear the gulf that separates the independent body from the Town Halls.

In its note, the CNMC details the different regulations that are, in its opinion, deserving of appeal for being measures with “restrictive effects on competition”. Madrid requires a licence for the rental of tourist apartments and homes. The municipality also establishes a period of one year, extendable for one more, before new licences can be granted in areas such as the Centro district. According to the recently approved legislation, the rental of tourist apartments that do not have an independent entrance will be prohibited, which represents 95% of the homes in the city centre.

In both Bilbao and San Sebastián, the regulations limit tourist apartments to ground and first floors only, unless they have independent access from the street. In Bilbao, moreover, tourist apartments need to be authorised and registered; and in San Sebastián new tourist apartments are prohibited in certain parts of the centre.

Higher prices

The Competition authority believes that, with their decisions, the municipal teams in Madrid, Bilbao and San Sebastián “are impeding the entry of new operators and consolidating the position of the existing suppliers of tourist accommodation”. The body has announced that these measures will lead to “higher prices in terms of tourist accommodation” and lower quality, investment and innovation in tourist accommodation in those three cities (…).

The affected municipalities reacted quickly, stating that they will defend their regulations in the courts. The Town Hall of Madrid, governed by Manuela Carmena (Ahora Madrid) said that it wants to combine the defence of tourism with the rights of “citizens in our neighbourhoods”, according to Julio Núñez. “Our objective is introduce regulation that protects the residential use of land and favours competition in a sector where hostels and hotels already operate”, add sources at the Urban Planning Department (…).

Original story: El País (by Luis Doncel)

Translation: Carmel Drake

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