Barcelona has an extensive and legal market for tourist accommodation, but there is still an illegal market for these services, which are harmful to tenants and the city.
The city of Barcelona offers a wide range of tourist accommodations that allow visitors to have a more immersive experience in the life of the city. These licensed tourist accommodations comply with the guidelines stipulated in the Special Urban Plan for Tourist Accommodations (PEUAT), in effect since 2017.
At the same time, in the city of Barcelona, you can also find an illegal offer of tourist accommodation. This is harmful to tenants, since they have no reclamation rights in respect to potential incidents, and relieves owners of providing mandatory services. It is also harmful to the city, since it generates speculation and a submerged economy, and the activity does not fit positively into the framework of the neighbourhoods that host it.
What is a tourist flat?
A flat for tourist use is accommodation provided by owners to sporadic tenants, directly or indirectly through agencies, in exchange for an economic payment and for a stay that is equal to or less than 31 days.
For a tourist flat to be legal, the owners must expressly communicate to the City Council their intention to carry out this activity, and the Administration must grant a license that certifies that it meets all the requirements established by law.
The property must also have a certificate of occupancy, and cannot accommodate more people than established in it. As for the interior of the home, it must be in a perfect state of hygiene, furnished and contain all necessary utensils.
Obligations of the owner of a tourist flat towards the community of neighbours
The owner directly, or the agency that manages the home as a touristic business, must provide tenants and neighbours with a telephone number to immediately answer or resolve queries or incidents related to the activity of the flat. Assistance or a maintenance service must also be guaranteed for any incident.
Eva Muro, Director of the Inspection Services of the City Planning Department of the Barcelona City Council, mentions that the owner also has “the obligation to provide a telephone number to the neighbours where he or she can be found 24 hours a day,” also providing the same number in the license application.
The police department and the neighbours themselves can get in contact with the owner in case of a complaint, which will result in disciplinary proceedings if the incident is not resolved. Three disciplinary proceedings in the same calendar year result in annulation of the license.
How to know if we are staying in an illegal tourist flat
You can check if a flat has a municipal license and that the address of it coincides with that of the flat on the Barcelona City Council website. If the address does not appear, the website offers various ways to register a complaint, such as sending it through the website or calling 010. For tenants, there are indications that the flat may be illegal; for example, if at the beginning of the stay they are advised not to open the door if a City Council inspector comes.
Procedures to follow to stop the activity of a tourist flat The usual administrative procedure to stop the activity of a home for illegal tourist use can last from 6 to 12 months, from the initial report to closure. This is a long period, since all legal guarantees of the disciplinary administrative procedure must be complied with. It is necessary to present the complaint to begin the inspection of the home and verify its use. If it does not comply with current regulations, the closure procedure will begin. The City Council must notify the owner of the incident. At this point, the owner has 10 days to present evidence to prove that the accusations are false. If the evidence accepted, the case will be shelved, otherwise a closure order will be issued by notification. The owner may appeal again, arguing that the accusations are not true or that the process was not carried out in compliance with regulations. If successful, the case will be shelved. If there are no resources or they are not provided, a procedure begins to verify the cessation of irregular activity. If the activity has not ceased, the closure order will be issued. If the owner opposes it, the City Council must obtain a court order. The Barcelona City Council does the work of opening cases and ensuring that all procedures have a sufficient base. It also provides sufficient evidence so that the court, in the final instance, can issue an order to cease the housing activity, based on the Tourism Law of Catalonia 13/2002.
The number of forced closures has declined steadily since mid-2016, at which time it began what Eva Muro called the “shock plan for the regulation of tourist accommodation“. In the second half of that year, 116 homes were closed, and in the following year there were 81, then 70 in 2018, and 34 in the first half of 2019.
In the same period, many more owners complied with the cessation orders, so it was not necessary to close the property. “The appearance of illegal flats followed a growing trend until 2018, since then drastically went down,” says Eva Muro, who explains it with the sanctioning mechanisms. “When the owners began to receive fines they thought about it, since it was no longer profitable. ”
In the second half of 2016, 121 flats ceased their illegal tourist activity following the order. 1075 did so in 2017, 1596 in 2018, and 650 in the first six months of 2019. At the beginning of the shock plan, the fines were around 30,000 euros; currently, they range between 60,000 and 600,000, depending on whether the owner is a repeat offender in the same calendar year.
What can happen if we report an illegal tourist flat while we are staying there
The tenant will not suffer any consequence in any case, whether s/he is the one who has made the report or is affected by a previous claim. The procedure to close an illegal tourist flat takes time and can extend over several months. In the event that a tourist flat is closed while it is housing tourists, the City Council will relocate the guests at no charge to them. Subsequently, the City Council will charge those costs to the owner of the unlicensed flat.
How to request a license for a tourist flat
As for property owners that wish to request a license for a tourist flat, they must inform the City Council that they want to offer a HUT (Home for Touristic Use). Homes for Touristic Use (HUT) are homes assigned by the owner, directly or indirectly, to third parties and in exchange for economic payment, for a temporary stay, in conditions of immediate availability and with the characteristics established by Decree 159/2012 of November 20. Tourist flat requirements The entire home must be rented and must meet the following conditions: Have the certificate of occupancy and satisfy at all times the technical and quality conditions required of homes in general. It cannot be occupied by more people than the number indicated in the certificate. It must be sufficiently furnished and equipped with the necessary items and utensils for immediate occupation, and in a perfect state of hygiene. Homes for tourist use require the corresponding communication before the start of the activity in the municipality. Currently, in the city of Barcelona, the Special Urban Plan for the Management of Tourist Accommodation Establishments, Youth Hostels, Temporary Housing Collective Residences, and Homes for Tourist Use (PEUAT) is the applicable regulation. It must be taken into account that any development of Economic Activity (whether or not it is required to pay the Tax on Economic Activities) must be declared and registered before the Tax Agency, which must determine the title under which the activities obtaining the license for the concept of housing for tourist use must be categorized. Once registration with the Tax Agency is formalized, the public price of rubbish collection must also be assessed, according to the information given upon activity registration.
Who can request it? License holders must be the owners of the home, whether they are natural or legal persons. In the event that a use right (usufruct) has been constituted on the property and provided that in the deed of incorporation it is not mentioned otherwise, the licensee will be the person who has the registered property. The request can also be made by a duly authorized representative, on the owner’s behalf. The application for the license can be filled out in the Citizen Help and Information Offices, upon payment of a fee of 227 euros.
It is very important to have the commitment and collaboration of visitors to the city to prevent this submerged economy that promotes a type of tourism that is irresponsible, is economically unsustainable and is disrespectful to the Barcelona environment. It is advisable to check before renting a tourist flat if it is legal or not, and to choose not to rent unlicensed flats to help fight fraud. If you are a neighbour and are being bothered by the activities of these accommodations, and want to contribute to fighting this phenomenon, now you can make a complaint more easily. Thanks to citizen collaboration, unlicensed flats have gone from 6000 in mid-2016 to 223 at the end of 2018. Enjoying a travel experience that is personally enriching and respectful towards the city residents also depends on the visitors themselves.