Thursday, December 08, 2016

Complex Problems: Rentals' Legislation

Is it possible that politicians genuinely don't know what they're talking about and don't know what they're doing? One does suspect that this may be the case, although one is also inclined to cut them some slack. Hopefully, they do know, and after all we voted for them (depending on who we are and whether we are enfranchised or not).

A view that was expressed recently apropos holiday rentals' legislation in the Balearics drew into question whether the regional government knows what it's doing. Specifically, the suggestion was that, because this legislation and related law on housing which is to be introduced presents such a complex problem, politicians disguise their inabilities to grapple with it adequately by indulging in bluster. In other words, they say a great deal in order to mask their inadequacies. Which may be unkind. Finding even adequate solutions to certain problems may be beyond anyone.

This particular legislation is far from straightforward, and one begins to appreciate why the Partido Popular were so averse to regulating in a more liberal fashion. Because of the complexity, they chose to ignore it, or rather bury it in the grave of prohibition. Why create an additional problem?

The complexity is such that it isn't clear if the problem has truly been defined. When the PP were so steadfastly refusing to free up the rentals' market, they didn't have the issue that has since arisen. This may not be a housing crisis as such, but there is an accommodation crisis, and it's only likely to get worse. Consequently, any legislation on holiday rentals has to take account of legislative change for housing. Biel Barceló's tourism-driven bill cannot neglect Marc Pons' society-driven act, and vice versa. The two go hand in hand. Or they should do.

This accommodation crisis has compounded what was already complicated. The problem isn't therefore static. Barceló (and Pons) are taking aim at moving targets, with websites like Airbnb seemingly shifting the goal posts on a constant basis. They both also have to take account of legislation that isn't in their hands, i.e. the national law on urban leasing, while there is a fundamental issue - a constitutional one almost - of human rights. Under this, an owner should be permitted to do as he or she sees fit with properties.

The solution, whether you liberalise the market or not, is to resort to the power of the fine. The controversies in Barcelona are predominantly to do with illegally rented holiday properties, yet that city, as with the rest of Catalonia, has what on the face of it seems reasonable enough legislation that permits the open commercialisation of holiday rentals. By now imposing massive fines on websites, Barcelona might hope that the problem will go away, when of course it will not. And the same will apply in Mallorca and the Balearics. Got a problem? Then fine the hell out of it rather than seek alternatives.

Barceló, with hindsight, might have preferred to stick with the PP's prohibitive stance. At least that way he could simply order the issuing of fines without having to concern himself with all the massive complexity that comes with being permissive - where are these legal holiday rentals to be, what are the powers of veto (communities, town hall, island councils), are there to be time limits (x number of weeks/months that accommodation can be rented for tourist purposes), and so on and so forth.

On top of this, Barceló has a problem that the PP did not have - his so-called partners in government. He has to satisfy the requirements of one party (PSOE), which isn't overly minded to establishing tourist number limits, with another (Podemos), which most certainly is. And Podemos sit very firmly on the Pons side of the accommodation debate - society's needs and not the needs of tourists and definitely not the needs of owners with several properties for holiday rent.

Yet another consideration is growing societal antagonism, and it is the way in which Barceló has handled this which allows some to accuse him of indeed trading in bluster. The whole "sustainable tourism" campaign he has undertaken is, say the likes of the Terraferida agitators, a load of eyewash, a major PR stunt with absolutely nothing to back it up.

Inherent to this sustainability is the tackling of seasonality, a problem that has always existed and one that has always been subject to politicians' bluster. They have all made announcements as to how they will deal with it, yet knowing that it is something over which they have minimal control. The current lengthening of the season owes very little to political initiative; it has to do with the fluctuations of demand and with the efforts of the private sector in expanding products such as cycling.

Do they know what they're doing with rentals' legislation? Actually, I believe they do, but convincing everyone of the fact is another matter.

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