April 30, 2019 / 12:50 PM / 3 months ago

Airbnb should be free to operate across Europe - EU court adviser

FILE PHOTO: The Airbnb logo is seen on a little mini pyramid under the glass Pyramid of the Louvre museum in Paris, France, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Airbnb should be treated as a digital service provider and free to operate across the European Union, an adviser for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said on Tuesday following a complaint by a French tourism association.

The home-renting service welcomed the opinion, saying it provided “a clear overview of what rules apply” after the French tourism group issued a complaint saying it had acted as a real estate agent and broken EU property rules.

Several city governments around the world including Paris and Barcelona worry Airbnb’s success is turning some neighbourhoods into sterile, tourist-only zones, and want greater restrictions on rental platforms and their postings.

ECJ Advocate General Maciej Szupunar said that Airbnb Ireland, from where the U.S. company runs its French website, “may be regarded as an information society service” that should benefit from the EU’s free movement of information.

France is Airbnb’s second-largest market after the United States. Paris, one of the most visited cities in the world, is its biggest single market, with around 65,000 homes listed.

The referral to the ECJ from a French court follows broader French concerns about unfair competition to hotels in Paris.

Szupunar described Airbnb as an online service connecting potential guests with hosts offering short-term accommodation. ECJ judges normally follow its advisers’ non-binding opinions and typically give their ruling two to four months later.

Founded in 2008 in San Francisco and with an EU base in Ireland, Airbnb matches people wishing to rent out all or part of their homes to temporary guests, via a website.

Szupunar said any restrictions should only be considered on a case-by-case basis, on the grounds of protecting consumers and that the European Commission, the EU executive, and Ireland, the host country, should be informed.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Alexander Smith

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