This is why Berlin has banned homeowners from renting their flats out on Airbnb

Berlin, with Alexanderplatz on the horizon. Image: Getty.

Anyone planning a weekend getaway to Berlin may have received a nasty shock, when the city announced that it has banned residents from renting out their flats to tourists through Airbnb. The move comes as a result of acute housing shortages, unprecedented population growth and marked changes in Europe’s housing system.

Berlin has long been a go-to city for creatives. Even when it was partitioned into East and West, the city attracted an alternative crowd. And when Berlin’s population shrank – particularly between 2000 and 2012 – the resulting surplus of cheap accommodation drew young artists, musicians and hipsters who were being priced out of London, Amsterdam or Paris, due to prohibitive house price inflation and ever-increasing rental costs.

Berlin has remained affordable because of a law pithily known as Zweckentfremdungsverbotsverordnung, which prevents owners from changing the use of properties. This makes it difficult to convert residential buildings into commercial property, and has protected much of the city’s housing stock from development since the second world war. Similar by-laws also exist in other large German cities, such as Hamburg and Munich.

Housing squeeze

Two years ago, Berlin’s parliament altered this law to include short-term leases on “guest-flats”. This made the short-term leasing of entire flats illegal, with breaches punishable by a €100,000 (£78,000) fine. After a two-year notice period, the ban came into effect in May. Under the new law, it’s still legal to rent out rooms in one’s own flat – but they can take up no more than 50 per cent of the floor space.

German research has revealed that buying and renting flats to tourists – via online agencies such as Airbnb and Wimdu – has become highly profitable, with some businesses managing hundreds of properties. Partly as a result of this, Berlin – which once had a surplus of accommodation – now finds itself with a severe and growing shortage.

No vacancy. Image: Julienaksoy/Flickr/creative commons.

The city is expected to grow by about 45,000 inhabitants each year – and that’s before accounting for the 30,000 and 60,000 refugees who have arrived in the last two years respectively.

To address these pressures, the city plans to build an additional 220,000 dwellings over the next decade. According to Berlin resident and director of the UrbanPlus planning consultancy Thomas Knorr-Siedow, the planning department intends to bring on 20,000 dwellings annually, of which some 6,000 are to be built by municipal housing companies.

Planning bodies will help ensure that a third of all new housing is affordable, in line with Berlin’s rent control arrangements. And it is thought that Berlin has about 20,000 “guest-flats”, which – if made available for normal letting – could supply one year’s demand.


Making a racket

Housing is not the only factor feeding into this change. Besides the loss of permanent rented flats, short-term letting to tourists is seen as a nuisance by locals, who complain that stag and hen parties, mass pub-crawls and noisy all-night partying seriously denigrate the quality of life in Berlin’s central neighbourhoods.

Other cities are sitting up and taking note of this approach: for example, Amsterdam is currently engaged in trying to limit Airbnb rentals, too. Here, entire flats can now only be let out at the times when the owners would be on holiday, and have a vacant flat anyway. City authorities enforce a rule which limits short-term holiday rentals, using automated computer systems to monitor online advertising.

Richard Ronald, Professor of Urban Studies at the University of Amsterdam observes that:

The city of Amsterdam has struggled with the rise of Airbnb, and while it initially sought to regulate growth, it has increasingly been forced to crack down on the sector. In the context of Amsterdam’s large, but very tight rental housing supply, there have been concerns over landlords switching properties from regular contracts to short-term tourist lets. At the same time, tax avoidance and illegal subletting, especially among social tenants, has also been a concern.

What’s more, Amsterdam is a relatively small city, which is also a highly popular tourist destination, so it has long sought to maximise its tourist tax income, which is levied via hotels and hostels. Unregulated tourist lets impact on that income.

 

As Ronald’s animation (above) articulates, the real story here is the transformation of Europe’s housing system. Since the financial crisis of 2008, there has been a rapid expansion of private renting across Europe, resulting, in part, from the demise of home ownership. Young people often find themselves unable to secure a mortgage, or to rent from social landlords whose housing stocks have been depleted through subsidised or open market sales, so they have to rent privately.

 

In tourist hot-spots such as London, Barcelona, Berlin, Edinburgh and Amsterdam, a battle for the rental market has broken out, with housing and planning authorities coming under ever-increasing pressure to act on behalf of residents. Berlin, with its long tradition of rent control, has responded with this novel regulation. This move is likely to push housing back up the agenda right across Europe – especially in cities trying to balance a growing demand for rented accommodation, with a vibrant tourist sector. The Conversation

Douglas Robertson is professor of sociology, social policy and criminology at the University of Stirling.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.