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Tourism

Barcelona woman forced to occupy own apartment after Airbnb listing

Family were unable to get in touch with tenant who had illegally listed their property on holiday portal

A woman in Barcelona has been forced to illegally occupy her own apartment  after the tenant she had rented it to listed the property without her knowledge on the vacation rental website Airbnb. Montse Pérez only managed to seize control of her property, located in the city’s popular seaside Barceloneta neighborhood, after booking it on the online platform, moving in, and then changing the locks, according to Catalan regional daily La Vanguardia.

A protest against Airbnb in the Barceloneta suburb of Barcelona.
A protest against Airbnb in the Barceloneta suburb of Barcelona.

The problems started when Pérez’s family signed a lease renting the apartment to a 26-year-old man. That contract included a clause forbidding the tenant from subletting the property as tourist accommodation. But after the document was signed, the family was unable to contact the tenant, only later discovering their property was now listed on Airbnb.

According to Pérez’s daughter, the tenant belongs to an organization specializing in this type of fraud. The group has rented other apartments in Barcelona with the same aim, paying €950 a month and then listing properties rented on Airbnb for €200 a night, she said.

City Hall says Airbnb is the only rental site still listing unlicensed properties

The San Francisco-based portal was quick to react to news of the case, taking the offending apartment off its books and laying the blame at the feet of the tenant who had offered it via their site. The company has also asked all “hosts,” as people who list accommodation on the portal are known, to “certify that they have permission to list a property” and “check and ensure they are following local laws.”

“These provisions are very clear in our terms of service and on our page about being a responsible host,” the company said.

But Airbnb’s response has not gone down well with City Hall in Barcelona, which is engaged in a long-running battle with the company over the issue of unlicensed vacation rentals, even fining the company €600,000 for running such listings.

On Wednesday, Barcelona’s councilor for city planning, Janet Sanz, said she planned to visit Montse Pérez and stated that Airbnb was the only platform that continues to post adverts for properties without the relevant paperwork.

“The message to Airbnb is clear: enough is enough. The question is no longer who is right or wrong: the problem is Airbnb is hurting locals by not wishing to comply with the law and [hurting] small property owners. Those who don’t comply [with the law] are going to come up against an administration that is on the side of the locals and defending their rights,” said Sanz.

Pérez’s daughter says the family have been a victim of a scam affecting other properties in Barcelona

As of Thursday, Pérez was still in her apartment in Barceloneta, according to La Vanguardia. The paper said its coverage of the story had revealed the existence of other cases, with readers writing in to say they had been the victims of similar fraud.

Vacation rentals are big business in Spain, where they now offer more beds than hotels, according to a recent study by Exceltur, the industry business association. But the sector’s growth in Barcelona, which is closely linked to the city’s tourism boom, has led to friction between companies like Airbnb and city authorities as well as locals. Many residents complain they have been priced out of the local rental market by people engaged in property speculation.

English version by George Mills.

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