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Prague seeks to rein in Airbnb to avoid ghost city scenario

Prague 

PRAGUE, the capital of the Czech Republic, is widening its campaign to put the brakes on Airbnb and other holiday rental websites, which they say are locking locals out of the housing market and changing the face of neighbourhoods.

Recently, the city approved a plan that calls for legislative changes allowing local authorities to restrict short leases, improve tax collection and force the platforms to share more details about its users, including the number of guests during a stay.

The city is cooperating with the national government and will try to push the changes through parliament this year.

"We just have to be able to counter the adverse effects of the boom of short-time rentals through digital platforms for citizens whether it is the touristification of neighbourhoods, rising rents or lack of housing," said Hana Kordova Marvanova, who prepared the proposal. "Unfortunately, the current legislation does not give us the means to address the issue."

Prague has debated for years whether to apply stricter rules to rein in Airbnb. The issue has intensified lately due to ballooning Airbnb rentals in Prague and growing complaints from citizens about noise, damage to historical buildings and rising rents.

The city is also battling a housing crisis as apartments are taken off the market by owners jumping onto the short-term rental bandwagon, mirroring a growing trend across Europe.

Airbnb disputed the claim that the system overloads the housing market and pushes out locals. Company spokeswoman Kirstin MacLeod said a 2018 study by the Czech Center for Economic and Market Analysis concluded that Airbnb accommodation was equivalent to just 1.8 per cent of the city's total housing stock. Nevertheless, the company takes "local concerns seriously", she said, adding that she is willing to work with all parties in Prague and across the globe to make home sharing viable and safe.

"Recently, we have approached the City of Prague on several occasions," Ms MacLeod said, "and offered to work together on a similar partnership and we are hopeful that we can find a common solution in future."

Another study in the same year by the Planning and Development Institute of Prague, however, concluded that as many as a fifth of all apartments in the capital's Old Town district, and 10 per cent in the surrounding areas are listed on the site. Some 80 per cent of listings are entire apartments, according to the study.

So far, Prague has been unsuccessful in regulating the holiday rental site and similar efforts have previously failed to gain the support of lawmakers. The city's councillor, Ms Marvanova, also said that previous talks with Airbnb did not bring any feasible results for the city. It has now joined forces with the Ministry of Local Development to finalise the proposals before going to parliament.

City officials are also holding talks with the Czech Chamber of Commerce and counterparts in Cesky Krumlov, a southern Bohemian town also heavily hit by over-tourism.

"There is an overwhelming agreement that we need the platforms to share information with us," Ms Marvanova said.

If the amendments are passed, Airbnb-type platforms will have to provide municipalities with detailed information regarding units being used in the business, sharing basic host data and the number of guests.

According to Ms Marvanova, the capital led unsuccessful negotiations with Airbnb about providing the data.

Other proposals still have to be further discussed with the ministry. The city also proposes giving local authorities rights to ban renting whole flats as opposed to single rooms, limit the number of rented days or subject the apartments for rent to stricter fire safety rules. BLOOMBERG