Barcelona Bans AirBnb – the end of tourist rentals?

June 22, 2024

Big news here in Barcelona:

Our new mayor, Jaume Collboni, announced yesterday that he wants to ban tourist apartments.

The current licenses, he says, will expire in 2028 – and that will be the end.

So, is this adiós to AirBnb?

Well, maybe.

La Vanguardia reports that the industry is ready to fight back, and that the court cases may last for years.

The Spanish Constitutional Court (which apparently, is different than the Supreme Court) is already hearing a separate case about whether Barcelona City Hall has the power to take away licenses on tourist rentals.

More cases are on their way through the courts, both in Spain and in Europe.

The Patronal – that’s like the trade organization representing the industry – has promised plenty of new lawsuits.

And we’ll see where we end up.

Will banning AirBnb solve Barcelona’s housing crisis?

Mayor Collboni claims this is just the first part of a plan he has to end Barcelona’s housing crisis.

Will it work?

I doubt it.

I’d like to see the other parts of his plan, because this bit seems like it might not change everybody’s lives overnight. Housing is really expensive these days. And there are only about 10,000 licenses for tourist rentals in the whole city.

It’s a drop in the bucket, in other words.

As I wrote in my recent piece on the Golden Visa, net migration to Barcelona is about 40,000 people per year. New construction, on the other hand, is between 1000 and 2000 new flats.

barceloneta neighborhood has a lot of airbnb flats

Basic economics would suggest that if demand for something is increasing 20 times faster than supply, shit’s gonna get weird. And it has: from the squatters in flats and commercial spaces around the city to the the “startups” that have in recent years proposed renting out sleeping pods or spaces to sleep in your car, the housing problem is only getting worse.

A lot of the new arrivals are immigrants from other countries, and from what I’ve read, their living conditions can be pretty dismal. Meanwhile, the “locals” are often finding themselves priced out of the city, and moving to smaller towns nearby.

(Currently, the biggest immigrant group in Barcelona is Italians. Which seems plausible, but I wouldn’t necessarily have guessed it. In any case, counting immigrants is tricky for various reasons: some may not be registered, some have multiple nationalities, others get Spanish nationality and no longer figure as “foreign”, etc.)

There are also students, digital nomads and long-term tourists who don’t make the official count.

All this to say, it’s complicated.

Barcelona’s illegal hostels

When Morena and I moved here, in 2018, we rented a tiny one-bedroom flat in Barceloneta for 750€ a month. Since we had a “temporary” 11-month contract, that quickly became 800€. Now the averages around that area are 1200€ or more.

It’s only been 6 years. That’s a big increase.

And I’d love for the government to do something about it. I just don’t know what.

(As a foreign person – or perhaps immigrant – myself, who spent many years moving between cheap rentals, I know how insulting it is looking through real estate ads for something I could maybe afford, at a stretch, and then to get rejected by the landlords for undisclosed reasons. I doubt most people in the government have had that experience. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the average rental costs over 1,136€ a month, whereas the average salary for huge parts of the population is around 1100 to 1300€. That means that it’s not only impossible to rent for one person with an average salary, but probably impossible for two.)

Getting back to AirBnb-type rentals, there’s also a question of whether or not a lot of them are legal to begin with. The 10,000 licenses are out there – but how many people are renting out flats by days or weeks without licenses?

Another article in La Vanguardia recently reported on the phenomenon of “clandestine hostels” in which mafias rent apartments (presenting false documentation to the landlords) and then rent out the rooms on Booking.com. The owners are the ones who are officially responsible, according to the law – but they also can’t just kick out their fake tenants without a years-long legal process.

tourist rentals in barcelona

This plan to eliminate licenses for people running tourist rentals may just get rid of the people who are trying to do everything by the books – the shady under-the-table types will probably come out just fine.

Also, I have a fair amount of skepticism when the government says they’ll do something in four years. The next municipal election is in just three years – and a lot can happen in the meantime.

Philosophy, housing, and “fun”

A gentleman named Marko over on my donation page says…

I really like your podcast and blog. I like your sense of humor, your insights and that you invest some time into thinking and research before forming an opinion. That is a rare thing today. Here is my modest contribution to your online empire. All the best!

Marko.

Thanks a lot, Marko! And to all my other donors, around the world: I appreciate you.

I actually do quite a bit of research and fact-checking to write these articles, and I also try to be aware of the difference between facts and opinions. So this article, for example, is about a larger question of whether or not the state “should” be telling people what they can or can’t do with their private property.

That sounds like the kind of philosophical question I get a bit tired just thinking about, because my brain will insist that I deal with things like “What is private property?” and “What does should even mean, really?” in the process, and I don’t have time for all that. I’d rather go for a walk, and let you, the audience, decide for yourselves.

Meanwhile, a publication in Andalucía called Sur in English says that there are nearly 4 million unoccupied houses in Spain – at the same time, the Bank of Spain estimates that 600,000 new homes are needed to meet demand.

There’s been some talk over the years of just making people rent out their second homes long-term… but I’m not sure if anything has come of it. And it’s Saturday night.

Reading through some tax code right now to find out doesn’t sound like much fun. And you know me: Mr Chorizo, whose name is practically synonymous with “fun”.

So I’m gonna head out. It’s San Juan this weekend, and the kids (for reasons involving pagan history, probably) are lighting fireworks outside my window.

Have a good one, y’all.

Yours,

Daniel AKA Mr Chorizo.

P.S. If you want someone to tell you what to think, it’s not hard to find these days. Seems like most of the non-fiction books written in the last several years contain ample amounts of ideological scolding, no matter what they’re about… I’ve recently just given up and gone back to reading sci-fi.

P.P.S. I just deleted multiple instances of the word “meanwhile” in this article. Good writing doesn’t exist, only good editing. And unfortunately I’m both writer and editor here, so you’re going to have to deal with my occasional overuse of adverbs and run-on lists which I end with an unsatisfying “etc”.

P.P.P.S. Okay, I couldn’t live with myself for writing “for reasons involving pagan history, probably” up there without actually looking into it. Now I find out that we’re celebrating Saint John the Baptist, who according to tradition ate a diet of locusts and wild honey, and was also Jesus’ cousin? I had no idea! If you ever go to the Prado (for example) and see a painting in which someone is holding up a decapitated head on a platter, that’s probably John the Baptist. (The head, I mean, is probably the head of John the Baptist.) Also, the fireworks come from pagan history, probably. So there.

P.P.P.P.S. For much more, check out my classic article on gentrification in Madrid, my newer one about buying a flat in Spain, and an homage to my glamorous Clot / Sant Martí neighborhood. Have fun!

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. Solutions, Politics, Hummm!
    So many good ideas, they tell us.

    Then with luck, they are gone before the good ideas start and all they leave behind is the pain.

    Then we get new "good" ideas and the big wheel turns once more.

    Some places are even less lucky

  2. I dislike AirBnB for a plethora of reasons but I'm not sure this is going to solve much for anyone, if indeed it ever comes to pass. The older I get the more cynical of politicians I become.

    If they want to solve the housing crisis the first question I'd ask is, "why are so many people moving to Barcelona?" and walk it back from there. Personally, having been to Barcelona and that experience putting me off of Spain for many years thereafter, I don't see the draw. But then I'm not some young 20-something digital nomad looking for the next Brooklyn either.

    1. Yeah I think Barcelona is pretty cool if you’re a 20-something from a colder place. And there’s no avoiding that. I’d love to see the government spend money getting people back into smaller cities and towns, but that may not be plausible with the way things are going, either. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Thanks, Daniel, for the all the info and the insight.

    We're in the Clot neighborhood for four nights (at a hotel) – and between this article and the Clot post, I've learned a good bit. We have an American friend who owned a flat in this neighborhood for years, although I believe he's sold or is selling. This is a great neighborhood. We've previously stayed in several others – most recently at the border of Les Corts & L'Antiga Esquerra de L'Eixample, an area that I also really liked.

    We chose this area – for not being too far for my husband to walk to a conference at the Open Univ. And, I usually choose a hotel over AirBnB because AirBnB fees usually add up to another 1 to 2 nights on top of the nights one's booking. Also, I like hotels with 24/7 desk coverage, in case we need anything from a landline (when for some reason the cell service quits), printer to be able to take care of business while away, advice on pharmacy, restaurants, where to buy a city bus ticket, etc.

    I do admit, tho, that for longer stays (for us, ten or more nights at one location), it can be nice to have more space and a kitchen (altho it is often less expensive to eat out than to cook at home in Italy, Spain, Portugal…) and longer-stay discounts can make it a better deal than say 15 or more nights at a hotel.

    It will be interesting to see what happens with the AirBnB/tourist-apartment industry as a whole, as many cities in Europe are implementing restrictions.

    Deb

    1. Hey Deb, thanks for commenting! I seem to remember that AirBnb was a lot cheaper than hotels for a while, and that having a kitchen was back when I couldn’t just afford to go to restaurants. At this point, I haven’t used it in years. We’ll see if the government actually manages to protect “locals” or if they just make everything more complicated. Have a nice stay 🙂

  4. Great articles as always! What’s the point of having a second home if the government forces you to rent it out long-term? Can they?

    1. Hey Susan, as far as I know they can’t really make you rent out a second home. It’s just one of the things the far left likes to propose, but I don’t think it’d make it through the courts / pass the “constitutionality” test. Thanks for reading!

  5. I comment on this as a flat owner in Madrid with a neighbor (directly above me) running an unlicensed tourist rental. it's really annoying and the damage they've done (flooding the terrace, making it rain in my sitting room) has cost me about 25K Euro. I've had enough and I'd like to see an effective crackdown – but pulling licenses will do nothing.

    The discussion of licenses would matter more if even half of the tourist rentals had licenses. This isn't the case. In fact, El País estimates that over 90% of tourist rentals are illegal.

    For that reason alone, I would much rather that the ayuntamiento in Madrid or Barcelona go after AirBnB or VRBO, who giddily list unlicensed rentals for tourists. In essence, at least as I see it, they are aiding and abetting an illegal business.

    NY and other places put an end to this by taking on the technology platforms that profit from these illegal businesses. Taking away licenses does nothing when most of the rentals are unlicensed. The only way to go after this problem is by throwing a wrench in the machine that makes it work – the platforms that profit from these illegal businesses.

    Providing housing is yet another issue. Yes, there are way too many tourist rentals in the center of the city, but they don't come close to the effects of decades without investment in social housing.

    1. Hey Patrick, yeah, the more I think about it the more it seems like taking licenses away from AirBnbs is only going to punish the people trying to do things legally. Unfortunately, the Spanish government is great at making things impossible for honest people, and not great at stopping criminals… Good luck and thanks for commenting!

  6. Ah, Mr. Welsch! Finally a chance to sit down and catch up on your posts. Thought-provoking and entertaining as usual. A pleasure to read! Keep it up! Interesting point about the unoccupied homes and the paradoxical need to build more. It's unusual but maybe tradition has something to do with it. For decades many Spaniards have bought second, third ar more homes as a way of investing. Investing in their families (providing homes and summer places for the next generation) and investing to build wealth. It's a pattern that's been around for a long time. And you can hardly blame them. Spain's stock market IBEX 35 right now is at the same levels it hit for the first time in 2006. And it's been bobbing up down in between. That would be as if Dow Jones were still at 11,000 instead of nearly 40,000. So you get the feeling the Spanish are more comfortable buying property, even if they have no immediate plans to do anything with it. Cheers!

    1. Hey Brian, yeah I used to think my Spanish friends were being unreasonable for considering real estate to be the best investment. Then I put some money in the Spanish stock market and watched it go absolutely nowhere for several years. Thanks for commenting!

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