Airbnb is getting blamed for Amsterdam’s housing crisis. So the city council is going to war against Airbnb

Canal houses in Amsterdam. Image: Getty.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a major European City in the midst of a housing crisis has started to crack down on one of the quintessential brands in the ‘gig economy’. We heard this story back in September, when London stripped Uber of their operating license. This time, however, it’s Amsterdam and Airbnb’s turn to pass the buck.

Like London, Amsterdam is struggling with housing. A study published by the University of Amsterdam in 2016 found that, over a 12 month period, house prices increased by 0.42 per cent whenever the density of Airbnb’s in a square kilometre radius increased. Couple that with a low number of allocated building permits, a lack of high-rise buildings and house prices rising to pre-2008 levels, and you have a market whose supply won’t meet demand until at least late 2019. The national student union LSVb has also estimated that Amsterdam faces the largest shortage of student housing in The Netherlands.

But it’s not just the effect on rent that has driven the city to take action against the firm. Airbnb is one of the major players in the Dutch accommodation scene, accounting for roughly 12 per cent of all overnight bookings, and a wave of sublets.

Nearly 5,000 homes in Amsterdam are permanently rented out on the house sharing site, which locks these homes out of the housing market. The estimated number of illegal sublets account for around half of the total number of Amsterdam homes listed on Airbnb.

City Alderpersons (elected councillors) such as Laurens Ivens believe that ‘Cottage Smokers,’ or ‘Pawnbrokers’ – real estate speculators who buy houses on a large scale and then rent them out to tourists – are behind a number of Airbnb properties. This practice is illegal in the Netherlands, as is renting out more than 40 per cent of your home. What’s more, the Dutch financial firm Rabobank has argued that speculators who buy property simply to rent it out disrupt the market and inflate prices, thereby increasing the risk of a housing market bubble.

The city has often struggled to gather sufficient data on these matters, however. Airbnb only agreed to actively check on whether its host sites are compliant with the law a little over a year ago.

Landlords are obliged by municipal law to report their listings. At the moment, though, the city estimates that it spends around €4m a year on policing casual holiday rentals, while also collecting online information through ‘data scraping’ to discover whether hosts are breaking the current rules.

The current law also allows the city to present fines of up to €6,000 to those found to be breaking these rules; last year, over €4.2m in fines were collected for housing fraud, the majority because of this particular violation. The city has also banned families consisting of more than four people from renting out their home.


The city took further action in January, when it announced plans to limit rental periods to just 30 days a year starting in 2019, down from the 60 imposed in December 2016. The move was, naturally, condemned by Airbnb’s policy manager, who described the move as “legally untenable”. The firm has yet to take any legal action, however.

Next year will also see new B&B owners required to apply for a permit from the municipality, which reserves the right to refuse licences in busy areas such as the growing financial district Zuidas. 

Several days later, Amsterdam went even further and joined eight other European cities – including Barcelona, Vienna, Paris, and Brussels – in writing a letter to the European Commission, demanding new rules for holiday rental periods. The cities also noted their desire for platforms such as Airbnb and Booking.com to share data with regulators, whilst also installing ‘quality rules’ to prevent host anonymity.

In spite of this, Airbnb remains popular with tourists, with record overnight stays recorded in 2017. Amsterdam accounted for around 81 per cent of the 2.6m bookings made in The Netherlands, according to Statista. The French data bureau also found that, on average, traditional hotel accommodation in Amsterdam is €11 cheaper per night than an Airbnb booking.

Mid March saw The Netherlands go to the polls to elect new municipal councils (think UK city council elections, but with a better devolution package). The Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) campaigned on a total ban on Airbnb in Amsterdam, a move shared by the Socialist Party (SP) and the Party for the Animals (PvdD). The liberal parties of D66 and the VVD, meanwhile, were less enthusiastic about a ban, but nonetheless support the current restrictions, as well as a further examination of Airbnb’s practices.

The VVD (who lead the current government) recently filed a motion in the Dutch House of Representatives to label housing fraud as an ‘economic crime,’ which does suggest an increasingly hard line from them on these matters. This also comes after one of their parliamentarians, Wybren van Haga, was accused of illegally leasing buildings.

The municipal election’s largest party – GroenLinks (Green Left) – has not called for a ban. But it is in favour of increasing sanctions on those violating the 30-day period. However, such is the nature of Dutch politics that no party is large enough to govern without a coalition. It is increasingly likely that the new coalition will be comprised of GroenLinks, D66, PdvA, and the Socialist Party. Judging by their manifestos, it might be time for Airbnb to start looking for new accommodation.

 
 
 
 

Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.


Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.