Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Holiday Lets War Gets Hotter

These have been a strange few days in the ongoing arguments over holiday lets. Firstly, the Mallorcan hoteliers federation, never exactly meek in its attitude towards private tourist accommodation, announced that it had denounced no fewer than forty websites which offer accommodation that has not been legalised. These were websites which were all said to be of a P2P nature, like therefore Airbnb. The federation has brought these websites to the attention of the secretary of state for telecommunications and information society, whose boss just so happens to be the national minister for tourism (and industry), José Manuel Soria. The federation also announced that it had taken on a company whose express task is to identify websites which commercialise apartments as holiday lets, something which, as I think we all know, is forbidden in the Balearics. While the Balearics tourism ministry had indicated that it would be taking a watching brief over such websites, the fact that the hoteliers have now taken this task upon themselves suggests that they may not have been impressed by the ministry's rigour. Whatever the reason, the federation is clearly gunning for websites which engage in promoting non-legalised accommodation, and any accommodation which is not legalised is easy to spot, as registered and so legal accommodation must show a code which proves its legality. 

Hot on the heels of the federation's latest war on holiday rentals came an admission from the tourism ministry that provisions in its draft tourism decree might not in themselves actually be legal. We now know, because the minister Jaime Martínez said so during a trip to Menorca, that the draft will be amended to exclude the requirements for certain types of property to have been built before 1960 and for owners to have to seek permission from neighbours in order to rent properties out. These requirements had been criticised for being absurd. Well, they were not only absurd they were also unconstitutional, which does rather beg a question as to how they found their way into the draft in the first place. Still, checks and balances do exist, and national and constitutional laws have supremacy over regional legislation, as Martínez now realises, having however raised a controversy over nothing and having put property owners into a right old flap for no good reason.

Martínez was in Menorca to meet various associations and local government representatives. He said that the draft decree has global consensus among all parties, which may not be a statement that all parties agree with, and certainly not in Menorca. The minister has asked the Menorcans for proposals in respect of the draft, saying that it is important for competitiveness that tourism businesses reach an agreement. He knows full well, or should know, that the Menorcans want a different take on holiday lets, precisely because they believe that a more permissive system of regulation would be beneficial to the island's competitiveness. We should be watching this Menorcan space with some interest in Mallorca, though whether Martínez in the end bows to Menorcan demands must be open to doubt and would thus blow a hole in his argument that there is global consensus.

And then, into the holiday lets equation entered a website named For those of you are interested and can understand the Spanish, there is a YouTube video that this real estate agency (which specialises in rentals as much as it does in sales) has released. Its title is "Prohibido alquilar. La industria hotelera contra el alquiler vacacional". It's almost twelve minutes long but it is worth looking at. The video does not deal with the Balearics only, as it cites examples of what are considered to be alleged abuses of regional regulations against holiday lets, the consequence of the national government having passed responsibility for such lets to the regions and of pressures applied by the large hotel chains on these regional administrations.

If nothing else, the video highlights the total lack of cohesion in rental legislation. Decentralisation is fine but not when it causes the confusion that it has when it comes to this particular topic. It also gives rise to the mistake that the Balearics tourism ministry made in its draft decree but which it has now rectified and also to the lack of clarity in Balearics regional legislation. To come back to the Menorcans, the small to medium-sized businesses association there has asked Martínez for greater clarity in the draft, and it is right to have done so. It was anything but clear, and, as I have pointed out previously, there are, so I am led to believe, others in the ministry who share such a concern.

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