Holidaymakers are being visited by police for booking Airbnb apartments that fall foul of local laws
Holidaymakers are being visited by police and even thrown out of their Airbnb apartments after unwittingly falling foul of local laws.
Airbnb, the home-sharing website, is allowing properties to be listed in places such as New York, Singapore, Japan and parts of Spain, where many short-term holiday lettings have been restricted or banned.
Money Mail can reveal that tourists are arriving at properties to find ‘No Airbnb’ signs posted inside the buildings, security guards who want to interrogate them and a hostile reception from other residents.
In the worst cases, guests are being denied entry to properties or even evicted by police part way through their stay.
Airbnb, which lists more than five million properties across 191 countries, has surged in popularity since it launched in 2008. The website allows anyone to advertise their room or property and every night more than two million people worldwide stay in accommodation booked through the site.
But Airbnb has faced a backlash in some countries where locals blame it for pushing up longer-term rents, putting hotels out of business and disrupting neighbourhoods.
As a result, a number of foreign governments have tightened the rules, in extreme cases banning holiday lettings altogether.
Yet short-term Airbnb has failed to stop owners in these areas from placing listings and isn’t warning guests that the properties they are renting break local laws.
Insurance brokers also warn that holidaymakers who are thrown out of their accommodation after unwittingly breaching local rules will not get a payout for their ruined trips on their travel cover.
Martyn James from Resolver, the complaints website, says: ‘It wouldn’t be difficult for Airbnb to flag up restricted areas to guests who book on its site and it should be obliged to. I think the reason it hasn’t addressed this is because it doesn’t want to highlight the backlash.’
Lawyers say customers who book in restricted areas are unlikely to face penalties or legal action. But guests have received unexpected visits from the authorities.
Jess Rowlands, 33, says Spanish police arrived unannounced at the Airbnb apartment she booked in Bilbao.
It was the last day of her trip and she and her friend Georgina, also 33, were packing. Just before 11am two policemen entered the flat, which had cost them £256 for three nights, and demanded to see their passports.
Jess says neither she nor Georgina let the officials into the building or the flat.
‘It was really stressful,’ Jess says. ‘There was a language barrier, but we could hear the policeman talking about us on the phone. They made us feel as if we’d done something wrong.’
Stressful: Jess Rowlands was quizzed by Spanish policemen who arrived unannounced at the Airbnb apartment she booked in Bilbao
Using a translation website on his phone, the officer told them there was a ‘bureaucratic problem in the building with Airbnb’.
The police spent half an hour interrogating the two friends.
Jess, who co-owns a homeware shop in Bristol, sent a message to the property owner about the incident and received a reply saying: ‘Thanks for the information.’
She says she and Georgina were quiet and respectful during their stay, but received a number of suspicious looks from other residents in the block and thinks they called the police.
Airbnb says Jess’s host has a licence to let. It says it has contacted the host to find out what happened. In most parts of Spain, home-owners need a licence to let out properties. Often, building managers add their own rules.
Some authorities are stricter than others. In the Balearic Islands, for instance, hosts cannot rent out rooms in apartment blocks. Money Mail found a number of listings on Airbnb that broke this rule.
Meanwhile, in New York, it is illegal to let out a whole apartment for less than a month if the host is away. Yet Money Mail found more than 300 entire New York flats listed on Airbnb for shorter terms.
Airbnb hosts in Istanbul must have a ‘tourism operation licence’. The host must get approval from everyone in the building or register the flat as a workplace. The apartment owner must also make a declaration to the tax office.
In Singapore, private properties cannot be let out for less than three months. Money Mail found hundreds of listings on Airbnb offering stays in Singapore for as little as two nights.
Where police get involved, the owner — not the guest — faces prosecution or fines, according to lawyers from professional services firm IR Global.
Michael Pensabene, from Rosenberg & Estis, a New York law firm, says: ‘I’m not aware of any guest receiving a summons, but there have been instances when guests were not permitted entry into a building and then had to go find other accommodation.’
Turkish police gave Tom Duggan ten minutes to leave the Airbnb apartment he was renting in Istanbul with a friend last year.Tom, 37, and his friend were woken by a loud knock at around 9am on the last day of their five-day trip.
A squad of 10 policeman, some armed, told the two men to hand over their passports and started asking questions.
Tom, a civil servant, says: ‘They mentioned tax and the flat not being registered.’
After an hour, Tom and his friend were told to sign a form, written in Turkish, to get their passports back. They were then given ten minutes to leave the property, which had cost them £300 for the five nights. Tom left behind some of his clothes in the rush.
He was refused compensation when he complained to the host. Airbnb offered a voucher to replace the items, but no refund.
Airbnb says there are many rules and regulations and it works with authorities to implement them.
It says hosts are asked to check and abide by any specific rules for their building or area. A spokesman adds: ‘Airbnb has already worked with 500 government authorities on measures to help families share their homes and follow the rules, and we’ll continue to expand this as we grow, ensuring everyone benefits from the rewards of home sharing.’
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