The European Union’s highest court, the European Court of Justice, ruled on Thursday that Airbnb does not have to follow the same rules as French real estate agents. The ECJ ruled that Airbnb is instead “an ‘information society service’, distinct from the subsequent service to which it relates.”
Airbnb is an American company that allows users to rent out their apartments or spare rooms to travelers. The company had 60,000 listings in Paris alone in 2018. The hoteliers’ association AHTOP, which includes major French hotels and leading hotel chains like Best Western, brought a case against the company’s subsidiary, Airbnb Ireland. They accused Airbnb Ireland of creating unfair competition in the hotel industry and argued that they function as a property rental firm and should be regulated as such. The hotels argued that Airbnb had a greater role in the rental process than simply connecting a landlord and a renter, making them an unlicensed property agent. The AHTOP wanted to make Airbnb subject to real estate agent financial rules such as insurance and accounting requirements. Airbnb denied acting as a real estate company.
The French hotels are not the only ones who have accused the rental platform of unfair competition; hotels from around the world have similar complaints. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is up for re-election next year and has stated an intention to try and reduce the amount of listings in the more tourist-centered parts of the city if she is re-elected. The city has been fighting with the platform for the past few years and is attempting to fine the company 12.5 million euro ($14 million) for not requiring the hosts register their listing properly with the city. Paris officials have also blamed the platform an increase in rent prices in the city.
The ruling by the ECJ holds that France failed to inform the European Commission of any requirements for rental platforms as needed by the EU directive on electronic commerce and that France should have filed its complaint before the EU e-commerce law came into effect. They also ruled that the landlords and renters could find each other in other ways and that the company meets the criteria to be considered an intermediary in this process. The ECJ said Airbnb “is not aimed only at providing immediate accommodation services, but rather it consists essentially of providing a tool for presenting and finding accommodation for rent.”
“We welcome this judgment and want to move forward and continue working with cities on clear rules that put local families and communities at the heart of sustainable 21st century travel,” Airbnb said in a statement. “We want to be good partners to everyone and already we have worked with more than 500 governments to help hosts share their homes, follow the rules and pay tax.”