Update, Feb. 18, 2013: Airbnb has said it will cooperate with the Municipality of Amsterdam to reject illegal hotels from its website.
Alderman Freek Ossel (Housing) says tells local newspaper Het Parool he is pleased with the outcome of a meeting with Airbnb’s European director and a representative from the organization’s headquarters in San Francisco.
Airbnb will actively work to keep ads for houses that are permanently, or almost permanently, offered as hotels off its website.
A preliminary check by the Housing and Social Support Department shows that 700 of the nearly 3,000 houses advertised for rent on Airbnb are in use as illegal hotels.
DutchAmsterdam.com — Various national and international news outlets recently reported that Amsterdam is on the verge of banning Airbnb — an online marketplace for temporary accommodation in countries around the world.
However, that is not the case.
Amsterdam-based technology website TheNextWeb.com last Saturday posted an item headlined, “Airbnb could be banned in Amsterdam.”
The message was based on a news article published that same day in local daily Het Parool, reporting on the city’s intensifying hunt on illegal hotels, particularly in the center of town.
Het Parool quoted Jan-Jaap Eikelboom, spokesperson for the Amsterdam Centrum borough, as saying that starting next week officials of both the Centrum borough and Dienst Wonen, Zorg en Samenleven (Housing and Social Support Department) will check houses in the center of the city.
The city believes some 2000 houses are in use as illegal hotels, many of which are located in the center district.
Fire Safety Checks
In June 2012, a fire that destroyed a historic building took the lives of two people who were temporarily staying there.
Just a month prior to the fire the company of the building’s owner had received a permit from the Centrum borough to rent out the empty, two-story house until a renovation permit would be issued. However, the event brought renewed focus to the discussion over properties that were illegally used as hotels.
In November and December of last year, officials checked some 200 specific addresses about which neighbors had complained regarding nuiseance such as noise, loitering, or an never-ending stream of different people going entering and leaving.
These homes were evaluated for fire safety, and whenever illegal hotels were discovered they were immediately closed.
Hunt for illegal hotels intensifies
With housing at a premium in Amsterdam, strict rules govern how properties may be used. Using buildings zoned for private apartments as hotels — thus withdrawing them from the residential rental market — is against the law.
Eikelboom told Het Parool that his teams may now check entire streets at once, instead of going to individuals addresses. He said they will also check homes that are being advertised on websites like Airbnb and Wimdu.
Checking for violations of fire safety regulations may seem to be a roundabout way to investigate illegal rentals. Eikelboom acknowledges it’s a simple method, and explains that dealing with such properties is a legally complicated affair.
No ban on Airbnb or similar sites
But the conclusion that a ban is imminent is not correct, Eikelboom told Het Parool yesterday.
“Of course we do not want to prohibit Airbnb,” he says. “On the contrary; that’s a good initiative.”
“Rather, what we hunt for are those people who present themselves as private individuals, but in fact rent out properties that are uninhabited, and thus knowingly violate the law,” he explains.
According to Eikelboom, the marketplace websites will only be used to see whether premises are offered for rent about which there is a suspicion that it concerns an illegal hotel.
Last November alderman Freek Ossel (Housing) told Het Parool, “That you rent out you home for a month while you’re on vacation is not necessarily illegal. But we notice that some home are being rented out quite often during the year.”
As an example he mentioned an apartment that was offered for rent ‘due to vacation.’ But when you clicked on the advertiser’s fictitious name, you see that the ‘landlord’ also has four other apartments on offer.
“In that case you’re not talking about someone who is leaving for a week and wants to earn some extra money,” Ossel said.
Risk of renting an illegal hotel room
The city is still contemplating how to let tourists know that there are risks associated with illegal rentals.
“In our previous enforcement action some tourists found themselves out on the streets,” Eikelboom warns. “They lost their money and had to find other accommodation.”
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