Monday, January 16, 2017

The Rentals' Controversy Coming Our Way

The upcoming holiday rentals' legislation and its implementation has the potential to significantly alter the tourism accommodation landscape. A headlining aspect of the legislation, thus far, has been the provision for communities to vote - by majority - in favour of or against registered lets in apartment buildings. It has raised concerns, not least among communities of owners who have fought over the years to keep their buildings purely residential, or as residential as they can. These concerns may, however, not be put to the test, as a crucial element of the legislation's implementation will be the principle of zoning. This hasn't captured the headlines in the same way, but it will do.

The government is working on the basis that there will be a limit to the number of holiday rentals' places, by which one takes it that these will be places that are in addition to currently registered and legal lets, such as villas. The limit of 43,000 places is for the whole of the Balearics. What this doesn't mean is 43,000 properties. If an apartment, say, has three bedrooms, that will equate (probably) to six places.

The implication of this is that the number of properties will be relatively small, and these properties are set to be permitted in accordance with how each zone is mapped out for holiday rentals. In Mallorca there are nine zones, one of them being Palma. The northern zone encompasses a vast area: all of Pollensa, all of Alcudia, all of Muro and all of Santa Margalida, plus non-coastal parts, such as Sa Pobla.

The Council of Mallorca, which is charged with defining these zones and the allocations within them, has said that the task will not be conducted on a street-by-street basis. It would take them forever, were it to be. There will therefore be general areas within zones, and a further principle will be to ensure that residential areas are not overrun by holiday rentals. Additionally, there is a hint that areas which currently aren't especially touristic will be looked upon favourably when it comes to the allocation.

There is yet another factor to take into account, also with the potential to create headlines and an enormous amount of controversy. Tourism minister Biel Barceló has more or less said that properties that are currently registered and legal may be "de-registered" if they fall outside the defined areas within the zones. Add to this an apparent aversion to holiday rentals on rural land (a reversal of the attitude and indeed legislation of the Partido Popular), and the total picture is highly complex and highly combustible.

No one has a clue how this might all pan out just yet, but there are issues which stand out, such as the unique situation in Pollensa. The recent confirmation of what we already knew - that there are more holiday rentals' places than hotel places - is completely different to the situations in Alcudia, Muro and Santa Margalida. It is also different to any other main tourism centre on the island. Might this current weighting in favour of holiday rentals mean that the municipality is overlooked? If there are already as many as there are, then why would more be needed?

This may not be the thinking, but when it comes to determining areas for holiday rentals within the municipality, might it be that properties are de-registered? The implications of this legislation are, as I say, potentially very significant. Pollensa's tourism councillor, Iliana Capllonch, said at the weekend that she hopes the process will prove to be "good", and there will be others hoping the same.

One also has to take into account the attitudes of the town halls. Three local mayors are with El Pi - Toni Mir (Alcudia), Biel Ferragut (Sa Pobla) and Joan Monjo (Santa Margalida - sort of El Pi in his case). El Pi has nailed its colours firmly to a liberal application of rentals' law, so much so that it has held joint press conferences with the Aptur holiday rentals' association. Mir has spoken in the past about the beneficial effects of rentals without expressing any dogmatic line on the subject. Ferragut represents a drive to create more tourism for Sa Pobla, and the only way this can be done - accommodation-wise - is through rentals. Monjo is bound to have his say, and it's typically a forceful one. A specific case for Santa Margalida is Son Serra, where there are no hotels but are apartments, if not big apartment buildings, in addition to the chalets and villas.

And what of Muro and Pollensa? In Muro, it's reasonable to say that the town hall has long been hotelier-friendly. Pollensa is something of an unknown. Gone are the days when Tomeu Cifre was fighting the rentals' corner. What might Miquel March stand up for?

The Council of Mallorca is bound to take town halls' views into consideration. It can't undertake its zoning exercise without town halls' involvement and, to a degree, guidance. But ultimately, and given the area, containing as it does four tourism centres, how many places might there in fact be? And once all this has been done, how many more places will continue to be illegal or to be offered under the provisions of the tenancy act - in a spurious way or not? There's something else to consider. The government wants Madrid to amend the tenancy act and apply a minimum of a month to tenancy agreements. Madrid might just do so, as it has a new tourism secretary of state who's inclined to adopt uniform regulations for the whole country.

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