Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Property Wild West

Tourism minister Biel Barceló does not wish to hinder economic activity in Mallorca's interior municipalities. Hindrance, as much as possible, will therefore be removed under legislation governing holiday rentals. The principle of zoning, by which municipalities with heavy tourist dependence are lumped together with those without this dependence, will almost certainly be prejudicial to the expansion (in legal, registered terms) of these rentals in tourist resorts. The more micro zoning, that within municipalities, will in all likelihood place greater restraints.

The devil will be in the detail that the Council of Mallorca has yet to reveal. It is responsible for eight zones on the island. Palma is looking after itself. Whatever the outcome of this zoning, the government, i.e. Barceló, states that the objective will be to ensure that ordinary people are able to find somewhere to live, especially those who work in the tourism sector and mostly only in the season (the definition of which is now being stretched because of its lengthening).

If the government said this when it first announced its intention to legislate, then it certainly didn't speak loudly about the issue of accommodation. It was not, so it seemed, top of the agenda. It has been forced onto the government by the scares over a shortage bordering on non-existence of accommodation and the advance of so-called gentrification - the takeover by tourists and by wealthy incomers buying up properties, partly (mainly?) for tourist rental purposes.

The government has reacted to these scares. It may now claim to be taking proactive measures, but that is spin. Residents associations, pressure groups and certain town halls were the ones who highlighted the problems, to which the government has now reacted through its words regarding the legislation. There aren't housing issues in interior municipalities, so these municipalities - within reason and legislative requirements - can have holiday rentals: proper, registered, legal rentals. The housing issues are in the resorts. The legislation may deprive them of the registered rentals, but it won't stop tourist rentals. The government's words are just that, unless mechanisms are in place. These involve, for instance, a reform of the tenancy act, something which is essential. The government, though, has to wait on Madrid for such a reform, which may not be forthcoming.

Barceló and the government have a growing crisis on their hands. More than one. Hackneyed expression it is but there is a perfect storm. Airbnb is not the sole factor by any means. Shortage of affordable housing is another. But even if there were more, where would be the guarantee that it would be purchased for residential use and by residents of these islands? What guarantee might there be of it being for residential renting? There is none. Speculation for tourism purposes is not confined to the higher end of the market.

The property developers bemoan a situation by which there is little scope for affordable developments. While they do this with a certain amount of self-interest, they have fewer problems (seemingly) with the higher end of the market. Let me cite an example. On an urbanisation in Playa de Muro, two luxury properties - totally out of keeping architecturally with others - have risen up on a plot once occupied by a bungalow. A neighbour describes the development as "a disaster". There is a sign which gives contact details. These are summer-season holiday rentals. The character of the urbanisation is altering. It has long had second homes, but one-time second homes are now being turned over to tourist rental.

A further factor is foreign buying. In certain parts of Palma which aren't considered the most desirable, we learn that there is increased demand from foreign buyers. The town hall talks vaguely about ensuring the co-existence of the neighbourhoods. But how does it do this? It has no mechanism to regulate who buys what. The same applies elsewhere. The level of foreign buying is lauded because of a beneficial economic impact. But at what cost socially? And for what purpose?

The situation with accommodation has become particularly acute in Ibiza; it is out of control. At the weekend there was a demonstration. It called on governments - regional and the Council of Ibiza - to apply laws. Left-wing administrations have been in power for almost two years and have barely addressed the issues of the increasing accommodation crisis, of the loophole offered by the tenancy act and blatant illegalities. Demands for rent are scandalously high. The shortage of places is such that Aena has been unable to recruit because of the cost of renting, assuming there is availability. Small wonder, therefore, that Barceló has been shaken into saying what he now is regarding the purpose of the legislation.

Allowing towns like Sineu to have a few holiday rentals will make no difference. Something very much more fundamental is demanded. Will government have the guts? Words aren't much good, especially when they are reactive.

No comments: