Mayor joins activists in discussions on how to tackle Prague’s Airbnb problem

Photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš

A group of activists protested against the practice of Airbnb at the weekend, holding a three-day-long brainstorm on how to tackle the phenomenon of short-term letting platforms which many believe is hollowing out organic neighbourhoods in the centre. They were joined by Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib, who revealed details about a new City Hall plan for tougher regulations.

Photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš
Prague’s Jindřišská is not just a busy street that connects Wenceslas Square with the Gothic-era Jindřišská Tower, it is also one of the hubs of short-term letting platforms. Its picturesque 19th century apartment houses are filled with empty flats advertised for tourists on websites such as Airbnb.

One of them was rented and used for a protest discussion this weekend by activists from STOP Airbnb who were highlighting the many problems that unregulated short-term letting platforms are causing for the Czech capital.

Radio Prague International spoke to one of the organisers of the event who wished to remain anonymous.

“What once used to be a shared economy, where you would rent a room or your apartment every once in a while, has become a business. Basically, whole apartments are being taken out of the long-term rental market and just being given to tourists.

“In Prague it is about 15,000 apartments on all of the platforms, so people who could be living there have been pushed out of the centre. Of course there are other issues causing this as well, but it does make the problem bigger.”

Zdeněk Hřib, photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš
The three-day-long event also attracted some of the city’s leading politicians, including Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib.

In fact, just last month, Prague’s current ruling coalition announced it will discuss legal reforms with the government that would regulate Airbnb type rentals.

The city has come up with a number of proposals. These include giving municipal authorities the power to regulate platforms such as Airbnb themselves and allowing Airbnb providers to only rent specific rooms rather than the whole apartment, something the mayor believes would dissuade them from entering the business.

Thus far both Prague City Hall and the responsible government department – the Ministry for Regional Development – agree on one of the proposed measures. Namely, that short-term letting platforms such as Airbnb become obliged to provide municipalities with relevant information on landlords, the number of guests and overnight stays.

Prague alone misses out on hundreds of millions of crowns because the respective landlords hide behind anonymity and do not pay the necessary tax and it is hoped that with this information the city could gather the taxes more effectively.

Asked about the City Hall’s plans, the protester from STOP Airbnb said that he was happy that the city authorities want to do something about the issue. However, he called some of the proposed steps “a bit naïve”.

“For example, when they say they want to force Airbnb to give them data about who owns the apartment, where it is, how much it is rented for and all those things.

Photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš
“Airbnb has refused to provide this data all over the world. Airbnb does not really want to cooperate with authorities, so I don’t know how Prague will do better than Barcelona, or Paris, or Berlin, who have been fighting over this issue for eight years in some cases.”

Previous negotiations between Prague and Airbnb on the issue have fallen short.

Asked about the possibility of cooperating with Prague authorities on the issue, Airbnb spokeswoman Kirstin Macleod said that Airbnb has introduced its own program to help to automatically collect and remit such taxes on behalf of the hosts, which is already being used by hundreds of governments and organisations.

The company hopes Prague will choose to negotiate a similar agreement.