Spain to crack down on holiday rentals to address housing crisis

Tourists walk with their suitcases in Gothic Quarter, in Barcelona

MADRID (Reuters) -Spain's government announced a crackdown on Wednesday on short-term and seasonal holiday lettings amid rising anger from locals who feel priced out of the housing market.

The government will investigate listings on platforms such as Airbnb and Booking.com to verify if they have licences, consumer rights minister Pablo Bustinduy said.

"If a house doesn't have a license for tourism, advertising it on internet platforms should be illegal and thus punished," Bustinduy said in an interview with state broadcaster TVE.

Spain is struggling to balance promoting tourism, a key driver of its economy, and addressing its citizens' concerns over unaffordably high rents due to gentrification and as landlords shift to more lucrative tourist rentals.

Rents rose by an average of 13% in June from a year earlier and by 18% in tourist cities such as Barcelona and Madrid, according to the property website Idealista.

Barcelona's mayor, Jaume Collboni, announced plan to phase out all short-term lets in the city by 2028.

Apartur, the association of tourism apartment owners, said the measure amounted to expropriation while Spain's Constitutional Court is deliberating whether the move is legal.

Residents of Barcelona, the Canary Islands and Malaga have staged protests in recent weeks against the rise in tourist rentals. Seasonal hospitality workers struggle to find accommodation in these tourism hot spots, with many resorting to sleeping in caravans or even their cars.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced earlier this week that the government would create a registry of holiday rental properties in a bid to limit the number of listings.

Housing minister Isabel Rodriguez said on Wednesday the registry would be ready by the end of 2025 at the earliest. When that happens, online platforms will have to provide data about hosts to verify if they are allowed to rent their homes.

The government is also looking to take steps to curb mid-term rentals ranging from one to 11 months, and may give neighbours in apartment blocks a say over whether an owner can list their property on platforms, the minister said.

Some union officials were less sure if involving the neighbours was a viable solution.

"The rise of tourist rentals is a major problem and these measures are not serious," said Victor Palomo, leader of the Madrid Tenants' Union after meeting with the housing minister.

"It can't be that it's only neighbours that are in charge of regulating them," he said, calling for landlords to pay more taxes.

Airbnb and Booking.com did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Inti Landauro and Corina Pons; additional reporting by Joan Faus; editing by Christina Fincher and Bernadette Baum)