EU lawyer: Airbnb is an ‘information society service’, not real estate agent

30 Apr 2019

Image: TPOPhoto/Depositphotos

In a major boost for Airbnb, an adviser to Europe’s highest court has said the company should not be regulated by Europe’s strict housing laws.

Airbnb in Ireland has secured a major advantage in its legal battle against a French hotelier association that had claimed the short-term rental platform was acting as a real estate agent under French law.

In a press release, an adviser to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) agreed with Airbnb’s legal defence that it is, in fact, an “information society service”. If the court agrees with this stance, Airbnb’s operations in Europe will not have to follow strict housing laws.

In the opinion of CJEU’s advocate general, Maciej Szpunar, it was important to consider the nature of Airbnb’s service. This includes whether it is a service that provides rentals remotely or whether it is entirely digital and merely connecting people with no say in the actual service provided.

“The answer to the first question should be that a service consisting in connecting potential guests with hosts offering short-term accommodation, via an electronic portal … [where] the provider of that service does not exercise control … constitutes an information society service,” the statement read.

One of the key complaints brought by the hotelier group AHTOP – representing 30,000 hotels and syndicates in France – was that Airbnb infringed the Hoguet Law, saying it should also be applied to Airbnb despite it being based in Ireland. This states that any legal entities that assist in the sale or letting of real estate on a regular basis must hold a government licence, including both property managers and real estate agents.

Not the last French legal battle

Crucially for Airbnb, along with being defined as an information society service, Szpunar said that, in his opinion, a ruling should prevent “a member state from being able to restrict … the free movement of information society services from another member state”, keeping Airbnb Ireland in the clear.

The Luxembourg-based CJEU first took on the case in September last year following a referral from a French court, and judges are now deliberating the case.

In a statement, Airbnb said: “We welcome the opinion of the advocate general, which provides a clear overview of what rules apply to collaborative economy platforms like Airbnb and how these rules help create opportunities for consumers.

“We also want to be good partners and already we have worked with more than 500 governments around the world on measures to help hosts share their homes, follow the rules and pay their fair share of tax.”

Meanwhile, Airbnb is also fighting another legal battle in France with the city of Paris. In February, the city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said that Paris would be suing Airbnb due to the listing of 1,000 allegedly illegal rentals on the platform. She said the legal action aims to “send a shot across the bows” and put a stop to rental practices that “spoil some Parisian neighbourhoods”.

Updated, 11.35am, 30 April 2019: This article has been updated to include a statement from Airbnb. 

An Airbnb login screen. Image: TPOPhoto/Depositphotos

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic