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.

 
 
 
 

To combat climate change, we need radical changes in the way we commute

This is fine. Image: Getty.

This year the average concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has hit its highest level in 800,000 years. Yet without urgent efforts to reduce emissions, concentrations, and the damage caused by climate change, this concentration will continue to grow.

One of the sectors where CO2 emissions continue to rise is transport. Recent analysis of the carbon budget suggests that petrol and diesel car sales will have to end by 2030 in order to counter this trend.

We all understand the implications of driving, in terms of CO2 and other emissions, and many of us are acting to do something to reduce the extent of our impacts. So why is this not translating into a reduction in emissions?

The reasons are many, varied, and complex:

  • The move to heavier, and therefore less fuel efficient cars, as the ‘high-end’ car market becomes increasingly dominant;

  • There may be implications of a shift away from diesel to petrol engines as consumers respond to air quality issues. Diesel combustion emits more material that affects air quality, while petrol emits higher levels of CO2;

  • We continue to invest heavily in roads, while neglecting other modes of transport, stimulating more car travel. And this doesn’t even include air travel – another growth area for carbon emissions.

Travel patterns are changing. On the motorway network there is significant traffic growth. And the baby boomers who are entering retirement now have higher car ownership levels than previous cohorts and drive more.

But in major cities, traffic levels have reduced and more people reach the centre by public transport. Young people are learning to drive later and are making fewer trips by car. Young men (17-29 years) are making 44 per cent fewer trips, and young women 26 per cent fewer trips, by car than they were in 1992-94.

These trends suggest that, through our continued investment in a huge roads programme, we are providing for travel demand that future generations may not generate. Worse, we risk locking in the most damaging aspects of travel demand by continually developing the road network.


Some of the problems associated with investing in roads were spelled out recently in a report published by the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, based on research by Sustrans, UWE and Nef. The report considers specifically whether there may be alternatives to the £1.4bn proposal for a new stretch of M4 around Cardiff and Newport. It discusses the extent to which the proposal would exacerbate societal and environmental challenges, including the impacts that run counter to the needs of future generations.

The fact that emissions from transport in Wales have only decreased by 3 per cent since 1990 emphasises the need to think differently about transport provision. Apart from anything else, the development is unlikely to be effective in alleviating congestion. Much better options are offered, including improved provision for walking and cycling.

Lifestyle changes key to the decarbonisation of the transport system

A Decarbonising Transport in Wales report, published by the Institute of Welsh Affairs, argues that “it is only by changing its relationship with the automobile that Wales can hope to meet its environmental targets”. The report acknowledges that transport in Wales is dominated by roads, and that most emissions emanate from the private car.

But the current reliance on technical solutions, primarily electrification of the private vehicle fleet, will not do enough to reduce carbon emissions quickly enough. The report considers options for reducing car use and mitigating its negative effects, including greater application of 20mph speed limits, a review of parking policy and consideration of ways of increasing the costs of car use to bring it closer in line with the costs of public transport. The report also considers how travel mode choice can be influenced by “changing the relationship with the car, stripping away its role as a status symbol”, possibly by moving away from private ownership to a pay per use model. It also suggests that electric vehicles are only an adequate solution in some settings, such as rural areas.

Similarly, another recent paper, which modelled pathways to lower carbon emissions in Scotland, argues that energy consumption and pollutant emissions from transport are greatly influenced by lifestyle choices and socio-cultural factors. Policies to change travel demand patterns can be implemented sooner, and will impact more significantly, to achieve emissions reduction.

Both of the papers are unequivocal about the role that walking and cycling needs to play in achieving decarbonisation of the transport system. If the UK is to make its contribution to worldwide efforts to stave off the very worst effects of climate change, we need to act fast on UK transport policy, and to urgently rebalance transport investment patterns. We need to prioritise demand management and behaviour change measures above our reliance on technological fixes, and to cease investment in transport solutions that serve an historic and damaging paradigm.

Dr Andy Cope is director of insight at transport campaign group Sustrans.