Court overturns Amsterdam’s three-district ban on Airbnb rentals

A ban by Amsterdam authorities on housing owners offering their properties for vacation rentals in three central districts of the popular tourist city has been overturned after a court ruled it has no basis in law.

City authorities had been responding to concerns over the impact of tourist platforms like Airbnb on quality of life for residents.

An update to the city’s website notes that, from tomorrow, it will be possible for property owners to apply for a holiday rental permit in the three neighborhoods where vacation rentals had been entirely banned from July 1 last year.

City authorities write that they are studying the court ruling and will update the page “as soon as more is known”.

Amsterdam’s authorities took the step of prohibiting vacation rentals in the Burgwallen-Oude Zijde, Burgwallen-Nieuwe Zijde and Grachtengordel-Zuid districts last summer after a consultation process found widespread support among residents for a ban.

Authorities said strong growth in tourist rentals was impacting quality of life for residents.

It has also previously introduced a permit system to control vacation rentals in other districts of the city — which limits rentals to (currently) a maximum of 30 nights per year and for a maximum of four people per rental.

A further condition of the permit states that: “Your guests [must] not cause any inconvenience.”

Following the court ruling that permit system will operate in the three central districts too.

The city’s ban on vacation rentals in the central districts was challenged by an association (Amsterdam Gastvrij) that represents the interests of homeowners who rent their properties through Airbnb and other platforms. They had argued that the Housing Act 2014 did not provide a legal basis for a prohibition on holiday rental. 

The Court of Amsterdam agreed, writing in its judgement that “a system of permits cannot contain a total prohibition”.

“Anyone who meets the conditions of the permit is in principle eligible for a permit. A total ban is a major infringement of the right to property and the free movement of services and will only be seen as a justified measure in very exceptional circumstances,” it further emphasized. 

An Airbnb spokesperson told us the company was not involved in the proceedings to challenge the ban but the spokesperson was keen to highlight the outcome. 

However the court’s verdict leaves room for the city to amend legislation to add new conditions to the permit system which could include a ‘quality of life’ consideration (which it does not currently).

The court also suggests the possibility of a quota system with a night criterion being introduced under existing legislation, as another means of using the permit system to manage quality of life. It further suggests city authorities could enforce residential (rather than touristic) purposes for houses via a zoning plan. So there are alternative avenues for Amsterdam’s officials to explore as a policy tool to limit activity on Airbnb et al.

At the same time the court ruling underlines the challenges European cities face in trying to regulate the impacts of rental platforms on areas like housing availability (and affordability) and wider quality of life issues for residents dealing with over-tourism (not currently an issue, of course, given ongoing travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic).

In recent years a number of major tourist cities in Europe have expressed public frustration over vacation rental platforms — penning an open letter to the European Commission back in 2019 that called for “strong legal obligations for platforms to cooperate with us in registration-schemes and in supplying rental-data per house that is advertised on their platforms”.

“Cities must protect the public interest and eliminate the adverse effects of short term holiday rental in various ways. More nuisances, feelings of insecurity and a ‘touristification’ of their neighbourhoods is not what our residents want. Therefore (local) governments should have the possibility to introduce their own regulations depending on the local situation,” they also wrote, urging EU policymakers to support a rethink of the rules.

Since then the Commission has announced a limited data-sharing arrangement with the leading vacation rental platforms, saying it wants to encourage “balanced” development of peer-to-peer rentals.

Last year the Dutch government pressed the Commission to go further over data access to vacation rental platforms — pushing for a provision to be included in a major planned update to pan-EU rules wrapping digital services, aka the Digital Services Act (DSA).

The DSA proposal, which is now going through the EU’s co-legislative process, is broadly targeted at standardizing processes for tackling illegal goods and services — so it could have implications for vacation platforms in areas like data-sharing where it relates to illegal vacation rentals (i.e. where a property is advertised without a required permit).