Victims of the conflict between Barcelona city council and Airbnb.
In the middle of 2016 Barcelona city council began fighting to put an end to neighbourhood problems and real estate speculation brought about by mass tourism. With this aim, in the space of one year the council has issued over 6,500 fines to people who supposedly rented out flats without a tourist licence.
As citizens and residents of Barcelona we accept that municipal action was required, and we understand the council’s motivation. However, in its attempt to penalise large scale speculators, the council has put in the same bag people who occasionally rented out to tourists the home in which they live, along with companies and professionals who used flats exclusively for the business of short-term tourist rentals, setting fines of 60,001 euro in both cases.
All the members of ACABA are people who rented out their own homes sporadically through the Airbnb platform, usually at weekends or during holidays. Many of us are people with low incomes or indeed unemployed, for whom the sharing economy meant a chance to pay the rent or mortgage, or just make ends meet.
Barcelona city council has designated this violation as “most serious”, in accordance with the Catalonian Tourist Law, carrying fines that range from 30,000 to 6000,000 euro, and becoming the only city in the world which has chosen to issue widespread and automated fines to anyone advertising their flat through Airbnb. The council has chosen to punish the sharing economy by making no distinction between people who rented out their own home now and again, and those who permanently rented out flats as a business, without having any residential use.
This council policy is the result of an abrupt re-interpretation of the existing law. What was previously not considered a violation at all, overnight and without warning became a “most serious” offence, purely due to this new interpretation. The enormous sum of the fine leaves us no choice but to take the council to court.
The city council made no effort to warn residents of its decision to set these fines, in fact in a display of bad faith it did quite the opposite. Firstly, the council sent thousands of letters to residents encouraging them to report each other if they suspected an unlicensed tourist flat, instead of warning of its intention to impose heavy fines. Then when the council had located the supposed offenders, it chose not to send them a warning letter. The cease and desist orders which it did sent did not prevent the automatic fine. At no point did the council give people the opportunity to take down their ads and stop renting out their homes in time to avoid punishment.
Throughout this period and to this day, despite warnings from ACABA, the company Airbnb still does not request the compulsory license when a person places an advertisement for their flat on its website, in the full knowledge that these people will subsequently be liable for a heavy fine. The company continues working in the same manner as before, leading people to believe that renting out their own home is within the law.
In all this legal action Barcelona city council has committed a number of procedural irregularities – the use of inconclusive evidence, denying the right to a defence, following an automated process without individual review and ignoring the presumption of innocence. In its attempt to control the sharing economy, which currently exists in a legal void, it has chosen a strategy of widespread and indiscriminate fines of huge proportions.
ACABA was formed as a means for residents of Barcelona to defend themselves against abusive and systematic behaviour by the city council, as well as to demand responsibilities from the American multinational Airbnb