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article imageAirbnb fined by Catalonia, Spain for 'illegal' property listings

By Anne Sewell     Jul 8, 2014 in Travel
Barcelona - The US-based website, Airbnb, was set up for people to offer their homes, apartments and even individual rooms, as vacation accommodations worldwide. Gathering strength and attracting investment, the website has suddenly hit a roadblock.
What Airbnb owners apparently didn't take into consideration was that regional laws would affect the website's vacation accommodation listings. Airbnb has now been hit with a fine of 30,000 euros ($40,000) by the government of Spain's Catalonia region, known as the Generalitat, for what is described as a "serious" breach of local tourism laws.
Reportedly, Airbnb was one of eight internal travel accommodation portals hit with a fine, after local inspections revealed apartments advertised on the site are not listed in the region's official register of tourist properties. According to Reuters, around 55 websites could be penalized by the Catalonia government.
On top of this, local government found advertisements for individual rooms in people's private apartments, which is illegal in the region.
While some might shake their heads at what they see as a money-making scheme on the part of the government to collect additional taxes, the rules do protect tourists by ensuring that accommodations are up to par and within regulations. This is why legal registration of properties is so important.
Now Catalonia's government is even thinking of possibly blocking access to the Airbnb website, according to the English version of the El País newspaper.
On top of being hit with the fines, Airbnb also must stop displaying listings for the illegal, unregistered properties immediately.
Airbnb made a brief statement on the situation to The Local, where they said:
"Barcelona should stay on the cutting edge of innovation, and we’re disappointed to see a ruling that affects diverse companies and that will hold the city back."
"Regarding our particular case, while we review this decision and consider our legal options, we will continue to provide robust information about the rules in Barcelona, and require all Airbnb hosts to follow those rules."
Innovation is well and good, but apparently this latest decision by the Generalitat is just another effort to regulate a sector where there are thought to be as many as 1 million illegal beds on offer to tourists.
Besides the fact that quality of accommodation is not guaranteed, local tourism operators say that companies like Airbnb are also taking away business from legitimate operators in the country.
According to El País, this isn't the first time that Airbnb has been targeted by authorities, as similar situations arose in Amsterdam, New York and Quebec. However, Catalonia is the first region to actually do something about it and fine the company.
Catalonia has been cracking down on the illegal property situation for some time and around 200,000 of these properties have now been legalized.
It is a tricky situation, however, as besides the fact that Airbnb's operations in Barcelona have generated around 128 million euros ($174 million) a year, a report also suggested that the company's business had generated more than 4,000 much-needed jobs in the city.
The same report revealed that around 75 percent of the people using Airbnb to find apartments have incomes either at, or below, the national Spanish average, giving those less fortunate an opportunity of a vacation within their means.
When all is said and done, however, Airbnb can probably afford the fine, as they recently received a healthy $450 million injection by way of investment, so it probably won't hurt too much.
Spanish sources:
El País
20 Minutos
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