This article was published on February 7, 2013

Amsterdam doesn’t ‘ban’ AirBnB but says renting out without a permit is illegal. Do you have a permit?

Amsterdam doesn’t ‘ban’ AirBnB but says renting out without a permit is illegal. Do you have a permit?
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Story by

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Founder & board member, TNW

Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is very active on Twitter as @Boris and Instagram: @Boris.

A few days ago we published a story titled “Airbnb could be banned in Amsterdam: Local authorities are now hunting for illegal hotels“. The story was brought to our attention via Dutch newspaper Het Parool. We looked into their story and then did our own research and found this document published by the city of Amsterdam in which it details what defines an ‘illegal hotel’:

“Illegal hotels are locations (private homes or apartments) that don’t have a hotel permit where tourists can stay in exchange for payment. The legal exceptions are short stay permit owning homes and homes that offer a bed & breakfast service and are registered as such”

Our story was picked up by a few other sites which in turn provoked a reply from both the government of Amsterdam and AirBnB. The complete AirBnB reply can be found on our original post, but here is one quote:

“According to city spokesperson Jan-Jaap Eikelboom, the conclusion that a ban was in the works was unfounded. “We obviously don’t want to ban Airbnb, which is a good initiative.” From his personal Twitter account, Eikelboom noted, “Nobody takes time to double-check sources.”

As you can see, we were accused of not checking our sources and the AirBnB spokesman also accuses us of ‘sensationalism’. I felt I couldn’t let this stand so I’ve spent the past two days talking to several people at AirBnB, the government of Amsterdam and some people who rent out their homes on AirBnB to get the full story.

AirBnB logoAs a professional international news publication we can’t just have people questioning our integrity. We also feel we have an obligation to inform our readers if they’re risking anything by using certain services, and we think this is the case here.

Let’s look at the facts. The government of Amsterdam has stated that our headline is false, paints the wrong picture and that it is impossible for them to ‘ban’ AirBnB from Amsterdam, and they then imply that this makes our whole article bogus.

When we write ‘Napster is killing the record industry‘ our readers understand perfectly well that nobody is really ‘killing’ anyone. If you make it illegal for people to rent out their homes and apartments and thereby make it impossible for AirBnB to do business in Amsterdam, you’ve effectively banned them. We’ve tried to compact the whole story into one sentence, and according to our interpretation this is a fairly accurate description of what’s happening.

When I spoke to a press spokesman for the Amsterdam government, Jan-Jaap Eikelboom, I asked him to confirm what AirBnB is implying in their statement, and to repeat his earlier statement:

“we obviously don’t want to ban Airbnb, which is a good initiative.”

His reply was that although he likes AirBnB he must admit that they actually have an obligation to look into illegal renting, and will use all sources available, including AirBnB, to find people who break the law. Then he added that although they assume some people on AirBnB don’t have the necessary licenses that doesn’t become apparent when you visit the site. I then asked him how many boats in Amsterdam have a license to rent out a room. The reply “Well, I can tell you there isn’t one boat in Amsterdam that has the proper licenses”.

There are currently 75 boats for rent via AirBnB.

Eikelboom continued explaining that although most listings on AirBnB might be illegal according to their rules, they simply don’t have enough manpower to go after them all, so will focus on the first 300 most apparent examples: locations that are clearly making a business out of renting out several rooms and locations that generate a lot of complaints from neighbors.

Although that might be soothing for some, the fact that the police doesn’t have enough manpower to catch everyone running a red light doesn’t make it any less illegal to do so. And for a company like AirBnB or a city like Amsterdam to say ‘there is NO problem because although you ARE breaking the rules nobody is going to come and catch you, for now’ seems irresponsible to me.

I also asked them to give me their official statement towards people renting out apartments via AirBnB. Not their statement towards AirBnB, the company, but to people using the site. This is the exact reply I received:

“We have a problem with everybody who rents out their apartment illegally”

The term ‘illegally’ doesn’t leave much room for interpretation, as it is clearly defined in the documents published by the city of Amsterdam. The fine is impressive too. €12.000 for first time offenders and €18.500 for repeat offenders. But besides its own laws and regulations the government spokesman also added the following warning:

“Most contracts for home owners or renters stipulate that they aren’t allowed to sublet their apartments or homes. On top of that the government of Amsterdam requires you to have a permit to do so, even if your contract allows for it.”

To put that in perspective, think about this: if you are renting your apartment your contract will most likely state that you can’t sublet. If you do sublet you risk losing your apartment. If you bought your home and have a mortgage your contract with the bank probably stipulates you can’t sublet either. If you have insurance your contract most likely will stipulate that you can only use your home yourself, and damage caused by renting out your home or apartment isn’t covered. Again, this might not apply to everyone, but my guess it applies to the majority of people now using AirBnB.

The city of Amsterdam also posted several statements on their Facebook page which I’m re-posting here:

Original Dutch comment: “Wanneer het gaat om illegale hotels checken wij alle adressen en meldingen waarvan wij het vermoeden hebben dat er een illegaal hotel gevestigd is.”
Translated: “When it comes to illegal hotels we check all addresses and reports if we have the suspicion that people are running an illegal hotel”

Original Dutch comment:“feit is dat wij controleren op adressen waarvan wij denken dat er een illegaal hotels gevestigd is. En om dat te onderbouwen gebruiken wij alle bronnen van informatie; openbare info zoals op websites te vinden is en informatie die wij krijgen door ondermeer melding vanuit de buurt en eigen constateringen van onze inspecteurs.”
Translated: “The fact is that we check addresses where we think illegal hotels are based. To build our case we use all sources available to us and that includes public information like websites and information we get from the neighborhoods and our own inspectors”

Original Dutch comment: “Bij het handhaven op illegale hotels die overlast veroorzaken in de binnenstad maken we wel gebruik van de informatie die op airbnb staat.”
Translated: “To enforce our laws and track down illegal hotels that cause problems in our inner city we do use information we find on AirBnB”

I think it is very odd and unprofessional to accuse us of tying some random information together to create a sensationalist article. I’m also offended by the remark that after we published our story ‘serious’ media companies starting reporting on our story too. I think we are pretty serious, thank you. But lets ignore that for now and move on to more serious issues.

I think the government of Amsterdam has the obligation to protect its citizens from harm. If they feel that users of AirBnB are breaking the law by using the site they should be crystal clear about it. Don’t blame us for reporting on the facts and then act as if nothing is wrong, whilst at the same time implying that people who use the site without the proper licenses are breaking the law and will be prosecuted by the authorities, if found out.

We can safely assume that the masses of AirBnB customers in The Netherlands are still very confused. Simple answers to simple questions such as “is it illegal to rent out your property on AirBnB without a license?” aren’t forthcoming despite numerous attempts by us and other AirBnB users. Just check the comments beneath our previous post and the numerous questions on the Government of Amsterdam Facebook page.

Were we really wrong to assume that renting out your property on AirBnB without a license is illegal? And that therefore that there’s a threat to AirBnB’s business in Amsterdam? We don’t think so, but more importantly, what do you think?