Property

Tag Archives

Put us on the map, please: China’s smaller cities go wild for starchitecture

From mountain-shaped apartment blocks to the centre of braised chicken reinventing itself as Solar Valley, Chinas second (and third) tier cities are hiring big-name architects to get them noticed

From egg-shaped concert halls to skyscrapers reminiscent of big pairs of pants, Chinas top cities are famously full of curious monuments to architectural ambition. But as land prices in the main metropolises have shot into the stratosphere, developers have been scrambling to buy up plots in the countrys second and third-tier cities, spawning a new generation of delirious plans in the provinces. President Xi Jinping may have issued a directive last year outlawing oversized, xenocentric, weird buildings, but many of these schemes were already well under way; his diktat has proved to be no obstacle to mayoral hubris yet.

From Harbin City of Music to Dezhou Solar Valley, provincial capitals are branding themselves as themed enclaves of culture and industry to attract inward investment, and commissioning scores of bold buildings to match. Even where there is no demand, city bureaucrats are relentlessly selling off land for development, hawking plots as the primary form of income accounting for 80% of municipal revenues in some cases. In the last two months alone, 50 Chinese cities received a total of 453bn yuan (54bn) from land auctions , a 73% increase on last year, and its the provincial capitals that are leading the way.

At the same time, Xis national culture drive has seen countless museums, concert halls and opera houses spring up across the country, often used as sweeteners for land deals, conceived as the jewels at the centre of glistening mixed-used visions (that sometimes never arrive). Culture, said Xi, is the prerequisite of the great renaissance of the Chinese people, but it has also proved to be a powerful lubricant for ever more real estate speculation even if the production of content to fill these great halls cant quite keep up with the insatiable building boom.
From mountain-shaped apartment blocks to cavernous libraries, heres a glimpse of whats emerging in the regions.

Fake Hills, Beihai

Fake
A render of how the Fake Hills would look. Illustration: MAD architects

Forming an 800 metre-long cliff-face along the coast of the southern port city of Beihai, the Fake Hills housing block is the work of Ma Yansong, Chinas homegrown conjuror of sinuous, globular forms whose practice is appropriately named MAD. Having studied at Yale and worked with Zaha Hadid in London, where he nourished his penchant for blobs, Ma has spent the last decade dreaming up improbable mountain-shaped megastructures across the country.

The
Less scenic mountain and more lumpen collision of colossal cruise-liners The first phase of construction on Fake Hills has been completed. Photograph: MAD

As it rises and falls, the undulating roofline of Fake Hills forms terraces for badminton and tennis courts, as well as a garden and swimming pool. Sadly the overall effect is less scenic mountain range than a lumpen collision of colossal cruise-liners.

Greenland Tower, Chengdu

Greenland
Greenland Tower, Chengdu. The building harks back to the crystalline dreams of early 20th-century German architect Bruno Taut. Illustration: Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture

A crystalline spire rising 468 metres above the 18 million-strong metropolis of Chengdu, the Greenland Tower will be the tallest building in southwestern China, standing as a sharply chiselled monument to the countrys (and by some counts the worlds) largest property developer, Greenland Holdings. It is designed by Chicago-based Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, architects of Dubais Burj Khalifa, who say the faceted shaft is a reference to the unique ice mountain topography of the region. It harks back to the crystalline dreams of early 20th-century German architect Bruno Taut, who imagined a dazzling glass city crown to celebrate socialism and agriculture; whether Sichuans farmers will be welcomed into the penthouse sky garden remains to be seen.

Sun-Moon mansion, Dezhou

The
A rival to Silicon Valley the Sun-Moon mansion of Solar Valley, Dezhou. Photograph: Alamy

Once known as a centre of braised chicken production, the city of Dezhou in the north-eastern province of Shandong now brands itself as Solar Valley, a renewable energy centre intended to rival Californias Silicon Valley. At its heart is the Sun-Moon mansion, a vast fan-shaped office building powered by an arc of solar panels on its roof. It is the brainchild of Huang Ming, aka Chinas sun king, an oil industry engineer turned solar energy tycoon who heads the Himin Solar Energy Group, the worlds biggest producer of solar water heaters as well as purveyor of sun-warmed toilet seats and solar-powered Tibetan prayer wheels.

Harbin Opera House

The
Harbin Opera House, with the St Petersburg of the east in the background. Photograph: View Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

Nicknamed the St Petersburg of the east, the far northern city of Harbin has long had a thriving cultural scene as a gateway to Russia and beyond. In the 1920s, fashions from Paris and Moscow arrived here before they reached Shanghai, and it was home to the countrys first symphony orchestra, made up of mostly Russian musicians.

Inside
Inside Harbin Opera House. Photograph: View Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

Declared city of music in 2010, Harbin has recently pumped millions into a gleaming new concert hall by Arata Isozaki, a gargantuan neo-classical conservatory and an 80,000 sq metre whipped meringue of an opera house by MAD. Shaped like a pair of snowy dunes, up which visitors can climb on snaking paths, the building contains a sinuous timber-lined auditorium designed as an eroded block of wood.

Tianjin Binhai library

Tianjin
Tianjin Binhai library. Illustration: MVRDV

Due to open this summer in the sprawling port city of Tianjin, this space-age library by Dutch architects MVRDV is imagined as a gaping cave of books, carved out from within an oblong glass block. The shelves form a terraced landscape of seating, wrapping around a giant mirrored sphere auditorium that nestles in the middle of the space like a pearl in an oyster.

The
Inside the space-age Tianjin Binhai library. Illustration: MVRDV

Along with a new theatre, congress centre and a science and technology museum by Bernard Tschumi, the building forms part of a new cultural quarter for the city, itself being swallowed into the planned Beijing-Tianjin mega-region population 130 million, thats more than Japan.

Huaguoyuan Towers, Guiyang

Huaguoyuan
Arups twin towers are almost complete. Illustration: LWK & Partners

Nowhere in China is the disparity between economic reality and architectural ambition more stark than in Guiyang, capital of rural Guizhou, the poorest province in the country, which has the fifth most skyscraper plans of any Chinese city. The twin 335-metre towers of the Huaguoyuan development, by Arup, are now almost complete, standing as the centrepiece of a new mixed-use office, retail and entertainment complex, while SOM is busy conjuring the even higher Cultural Plaza Tower, a 521-metre glass spear that will soar above a new riverfront world of shopping malls and theatres. It has the glitz and gloss of any other Chinese citys new central business district, but as Knight Franks David Ji points out: It will be hard for a city like Guiyang to find quality tenants to fill the space.

Yubei agricultural park, Chongqing

Will
Will Alsops Yubei agricultural park. Illustration: Will Alsop

Architectural funster Will Alsop may finally have found his calling in the supercharged furnace of Chinas second-tier cities booming leisure economy, crafting a number of fantastical dreamworlds from his new satellite studio in Chongqing where he is busy building a new cultural quarter around his own office, with a restaurant, bar and distillery. He is also plotting an enormous agricultural leisure park in Yubei, 20 miles north of the city, designed to cater to the new middle classes nascent appreciation of the countryside, a place hitherto associated with peasants and poverty. The rolling landscape will be dotted with cocoon-like treehouses, a flower-shaped hotel and a big lake covered by an LED-screen canopy, so visitors can enjoy projected blue skies despite the smog.

Zendai Himalayas centre, Nanjing

A
A limestone mountain range : Zendai Himalayas Centre, Nanjing. Illustration: www.i-mad.com

Erupting across six city blocks like a limestone mountain range, the Zendai Himalayas Centre will be Mas most literal interpretation yet of his philosophy of fusing architecture and nature. Taking inspiration from the traditional style of shanshui landscape brush painting (literally meaning mountain-water), the 560,000 sq metre complex is designed to look as if it has been eroded by millennia of wind and water, not thrown up overnight by an army of migrant labourers. Once again, Ma appears to be forgetting that elegant feathery brushstrokes dont often translate well into lumps of glass and steel. It is one of many such green-fingered schemes in Nanjing, including Stefano Boeris vertical forest towers and the Sifang art park, where Steven Holl, SANAA, David Adjaye and others have built pavilions in a rolling landscape as another decoy for a luxury real estate project.

Huawei campus, Dongguan

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/mar/18/real-estate-revolution-unstoppable-building-boom-china


Foreign billionaires in London choosing to rent to avoid stamp duty

Number of lettings costing more than 3,000 a week increased by 28% in the last three months of 2016, research shows

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/feb/12/foreign-billionaires-london-choosing-rent-avoid-stamp-duty


The solar-powered town: a dream for the environment or a wildlife nightmare?

Babcock Ranch, the brainchild of ex-NFL player Syd Kitson, aims to be a model of sustainability but campaigners fear it will be tragic for endangered panther

Florida real estate has a bad habit of reflecting the boom-and-bust cycles of the US economy but Babcock Ranch, a new development opening early next year and designed to be the worlds first solar-powered town, is hoping it can provide the Sunshine state with a model for sustainable living.

That, at least, is the hope of Syd Kitson, a former offensive guard with the Green Bay Packers turned real estate developer, who is behind an ambitious project that Kitson describes as the countrys most sustainable, most innovative and health-focused new town in the US.

Bordered by the Babcock Ranch preserve and the 65,000-acre Cecil M Webb wildlife management area, Babcock Ranch is at the centre of south-west Floridas newest growth corridor, just 20 minutes east of downtown Fort Myers.

Kitson and his backers bought the estate for more than $500m in 2006 from the heirs of Edward Vose Babcock, a former mayor of Pittsburgh. The developer sold 73,000 acres to the state, creating the preserve, and designated 18,000 acres to the development and 9,000 acres to parkland.

At its completion, Babcock is expected to grow to 19,500 homes, with a downtown with commercial space and extensive infrastructure, including a 75-megawatt solar facility generating electricity for the town, self-driving cars, groves of oak and natural plants for landscaping, community and kitchen gardens, a farm-to-table restaurant, a charter school and an extensive network of lakes and irrigation designed to reduce the developments environmental impact.

Environmentalists
Environmentalists claim the project threatens the habitat of the Florida panther. Photograph: Alamy

I want to prove that development and preservation can work hand in hand, says Kitson. You see the carelessness of new developments in terms of energy consumption, care for the environment, how you think about energy, technology, transportation, theres a responsibility on us to prove it can be done differently.

But can it? Florida is expecting population growth of 6 million by 2030. Many of the states natural resources are under pressure from environmental degradation, including from sea level rise and overuse of ground water. Babcock is 20ft above sea level, and built on land that had been disturbed by rock mining.

Kitsons plan was to make Babcock sustainable from the outset. Gone are energy-draining McMansions and water-demanding lawns. The houses are designed smaller in scale, with dining rooms eliminated, and built in traditional Floridian ranch style with front and back porches.

Were looking at the average house performing 10-20% better than Florida energy code, says Dr Jennifer Languell, a green practices adviser on the project. Ultimately, however, theres no way to get around the demand for air conditioning in Floridas environment.

We can create airflow through the house, but the bottom line is we have to address the humidity and the only way to get the moisture out is to mechanically remove it.

Kitson says he toured large-scale communities to see how sustainability could be incorporated into real estate developments, including Serenbe on the edge of Atlanta; he travelled as far as Abu Dhabi in the process. Kitson says surveys he commissioned revealed that people want to be part of something that is sustainable, and want to know that where theyre going to live is not only not harmful to the environment but actually helps it.

Kitson says his determination was to create a sustainable community that functioned as a complete community. Its about a well-rounded good life, he says, not about being locked away from the world. Its kind of like going back to the way things used to be.

But how much of that is feasible? Egrets and a large alligator moving through a channel in the Babcock preserve suggest that the 10-year delay in starting the development has been beneficial to indigenous species. Kitsons environmental projects include placing a pollinating garden around the solar field to attracting bees and beetles to help the environment and sustainability; the Babcock plans envisage landscaping that can be beautiful but not thirsty.

One expectation is that by using a network of driverless cars, Babcock residents will ultimately scale back on car ownership, bring a familys auto needs down from two cars to one, allowing land that would be used for multi-car garages to be reassigned.

Still, the development of land in south-west Florida is controversial. Babcock lies close to one of the last habitats of Floridas dwindling panther population. Wildlife groups say the Babcock development risks cutting off the big cats passage between the two parcels of land large enough to support a population.

A 2006 report by the Fish and Wildlife Service found there would be no direct effect in the form of mortality or injury of the Florida panther resulting from this project. But it is feared that additional habitat loss from development of land around Babcock, and injury to the animals from traffic and illegal hunting, will further reduce the viability of the population.

The Florida panther is an endangered species and this development is locking them into a small area, says Matthew Schwartz of the South Florida Wildlands Association. Roadkill and habitat loss is just destroying the population because it has nowhere to expand into.

Schwartz says the town of Babcock Ranch is going smack into what the Fish and Wildlife Service identified as a possible expansion area. Thats tragic not only for the panther, but for black bears, eastern indigo snakes, red-cockaded woodpeckers and a whole range of species living under its umbrella.

The environmentalist says the threat to wildlife is not simply the development of Babcock itself, but the development of surrounding areas.

They say theyre only using land that was previously disturbed but other private lands nearby will also be developed once people start moving in. People will want movie theaters and shopping centres, all the things that are part of urban sprawl. This project is making undeveloped habitats around it much more vulnerable.

The developers didnt need to come into undeveloped habitat to start a solar project there are plenty of communities they could have retrofitted with solar, Schwartz adds.

When Babcock opens to the public early next year, it will be greeted as a new model town. How far it can serve as a model for a more sustainable future remains open to question.

Its an experiment, says Kitson. Ive spent half my life hiking, camping, being part of nature. A lot more people are thinking about how theyre living and how theyre affecting their environment. We have a unique opportunity to create a place in a way that hasnt been done before. If we can get it right, we think its going to set a standard.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/25/solar-powered-town-babcock-ranch-environmentalist-panther


Qatar wins approval to turn US embassy in London into hotel

Westminster council accepts plan to build 137-room hotel in Grade II-listed building in Grosvenor Square

The Qatari royal familys property company has won approval to turn the US embassy in London into a luxury hotel.

Westminster council agreed Qatari Diar Real Estates plan for the Grade II-listed building in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, on Tuesday. The nine floors, three of which are underground, will include up to 137 hotel rooms, shops, restaurants and bars.

The US state department agreed to sell the building to Qatari Diar in 2009 to fund a new embassy in the Nine Elms regeneration project south of the Thames. Estimates put the Grosvenor Square sites value at 500m before it was made a listed building, which would have reduced the value because of restrictions on development.

Qatari Diar, part of the Qatari Investment Authority, has snapped up several high-profile London properties including the former Chelsea barracks, the former Olympic athletes village and most of Canary Wharf. Qatari investment interests also own Harrods and substantial stakes in Heathrow airport, Sainsburys, Barclays Bank and IAG, the parent company of British Airways.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/nov/16/qatar-wins-approval-to-turn-american-embassy-into-luxury-hotel


Virtual realty: can a computer game turn you into an evil property developer?

Delaying repairs to save money and dehumanising your tenants … Adam Forrest becomes a virtual landlord and learns some interesting and depressing lessons

Building my first high-rise tower wasnt too difficult. I threw up some studio apartments, hooked them up with power and phone lines, arranged for a rubbish collection, and welcomed my first tenants. I packed the people in, stacked the units, and the profits soon began to pile up nicely.

Its fun being a virtual landlord. Ive been playing Project Highrise, a PC and Mac real estate management simulation, since the games release in September. It gives cash-strapped renters like me a chance to indulge the wild fantasy of owning property. It also offers members of Generation Rent some insight into how real-world landlords and larger developers actually do business.

Despite its cutesy appearance, the game is surprisingly detailed and utterly unsentimental. You begin the game by managing the costs of building infrastructure, and trying to avoid taking on too much bank debt before your tenants can provide a steady revenue stream. Before too long, youre hiring consultants to lobby city hall for a metro station and wondering whether prestige artwork in the hallway might attract higher-paying residents.

In becoming a digital Donald Trump, I learned some interesting, if slightly depressing lessons. For one thing, its costly to lose tenants. You dont want a day to go by without any rent; and you dont want to have to reach into your pocket to refurbish an empty flat to make it rentable again. So its best to keep all current tenants happy, if you can. But fixing up occupied flats that have turned grimy is also expensive, so its worth trying to hold out as long as possible without doing repairs.

Project
Project Highrise Before too long, after filling six or seven floors, I forgot about them as individuals. Photograph: SomaSim

I also learned how easy it is to dehumanise your tenants. At first, each new tower resident was an intriguing little person I cared about. I customised their names so I could remember their characteristics. Phyllis, who didnt seem to go out much, became Phyllis the Quiet One. Mildred, who always complained about the smell of the rubbish bins on her floor, became Smell-sensitive Mildred. Dave was simply Tank Top Dave.

But before too long, after filling six or seven floors, I forgot about them as individuals. They were simply rent payers; inhabitants of my units. And if they werent happy about something, they became a profit-draining pain.

We did a lot of research about how real-world things function, says Matthew Viglione, designer of Project Highrise, which is made by Chicago-based SomaSim. We talked to building developers and owners in Chicago about how much they plan for, how much they react, how needy certain tenants are, and how much you want residential [tenants] versus commercial [tenants]. We did walking tours of various skyscrapers, and said, Yes, we want that element in the game.

Project Highrise runs a series of urban development challenges in which the player is put in charge of buildings in crisis, based loosely on repurposed and rejuvenated downtown Chicago skyscrapers like the Marquette Building.

I tried one challenge called neighbourhood revitalisation, which tests your ability to revive a particularly run-down building and restore it to profit-making glory. Shamefully, I found it cost effective to evict low paying cafes and cheap liquor stores and bring in some higher paying creatives graphic design studios, architectural practices and talent agencies. Perhaps I was only following the gentrification model Ive absorbed from real-life London.

A
A screengrab of game play from Project Highrise. Photograph: SomaSim

Project Highrises programmer, Robert Zubek, says the game was not based on any one model of change and it is possible to adopt a number of different strategies to find reliable, long-term profit.

If you imagine a game where your tower is grimy and run down, you dont actually have to fix it, Zubek explains. You can just lower the rent just enough for people to be less unhappy, so that they dont move out. So you can play this slumlord kind of game. It is still dehumanising, because ultimately youre having to treat your tenants as financial resources.

In this respect, the game reflects life all too well. If continually watching the bottom line seems a little grim, there is at least the consolation of playing with the form of your fantasy tower. Would-be architects can tinker with the shape of construction, although SomaSims designers admit to being strongly influenced by the simple, clean modernism of Chicagos Mies van der Rohe for the games basic structural elements.

Its a style that travels well, explains Viglione. And the interior design, the colour palette and furniture were borrowed from the 1960s. Theres something very simple, international and appealing about it. I think the optimism of that era was fantastic.

Intriguingly, some of SomaSims early ideas were too awkward to incorporate into the finished game. One concept the team considered, before it was finally deemed too complex, was offering virtual tenants the chance to sign up to long-term tenancy contracts.

We did consider introducing leases where residents could agree to be locked into long-term leases, says Zubek. But we had a hard time making that easy for the player to understand it just made it harder to enjoy the game. You want to give the player a lot of power so they have the agency to do things.

After six weeks of playing Project Highrise, squeezing tiny tenants living in my laptop tower, I found myself envisioning a different kind of video game: a fantasy world which flipped everything on its head, and put the tenant in control.

In this alternative game (Project Housing Crisis?) wealthy property magnates would be able to vicariously experience the life of an impoverished renter, attempting to dodge rent hikes and the threat of eviction while saving up for a deposit. You never know, it might even make our cities kinder, more human places.

Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook and join the discussion

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/nov/09/virtual-realty-computer-game-evil-property-developer


Airbnb faces worldwide opposition. It plans a movement to rise up in its defence

The room-rental website, now worth $30bn, faces a critical year as city authorities clamp down

In the back room of a pub in Kentish Town, a group of middle-class Londoners are perched on velvet-covered stools, eating hummus and talking about property. On the wall, above a pile of empty beer kegs, a slide presentation is in progress. A video of Airbnbs recent advert shows smiling hosts opening their front doors and declaring their support for Sadiq Khans post-Brexit London is open campaign.

The audience of Airbnb hosts are there after receiving individual invitations from the company to a home sharers meet-up a concept largely unfamiliar to the slightly bemused crowd. Jonathan, an enthusiastic Californian Airbnb employee, who was recently seconded to London to set up the clubs, is happy to explain: Homesharing clubs are simply a way of organising this into something that has a unified voice then actually takes actions as a collective, he says, in a less than clear answer.

More simply, homesharing clubs are advocacy groups made up of Airbnb hosts loose, informal lobbying groups that push the companys agenda to politicians. The clubs are part of a what is fast becoming a concerted fightback by Airbnb, the website founded in 2008 when three college friends rented out air mattresses in their San Francisco flat as a way of making money, to become one of the biggest online travel brands in the world.

But its phenomenal growth is proving to be its greatest liability. Authorities in cities around the world fear the impact it is having on their communities and are now seeking to arrest Airbnbs near unfettered expansion.

The latest in a series of attempts around the world to curb its growth came earlier this month when New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that will fine tenants or landlords who let out unoccupied flatsfor less than 30 days.

Meanwhile, in Dublin, the owners of one flat have recently been prohibited from using it as an Airbnb let without planning permission, raising the prospect of copycat actions elsewhere.

In Berlin, people who let more than half of their flat short-term without obtaining permission from the city council now risk a fine of 100,000. And in London, a 90-day rule was introduced last year under which no property can be rented out on Airbnb, or any similar service, for more than three months a year without planning permission.

So how is Airbnb responding? In New York the company has filed a lawsuit in the US federal court. But at a wider level the company is now supporting efforts to prevent these types of actions from taking place in the first place. And the best way to do this, Airbnb thinks, is to get its millions of hosts to rise up on its behalf.

Last year the company announced plans for 2016 to create homesharing clubs in 100 cities around the world. The aim, it said, was to form a powerful people-to-people based political advocacy bloc.

The bulk of the clubs are in North America, with a couple in Australia, South America and Asia, and an increasing number in Europe. In Britain, however, the number of clubs is negligible, even though there are more than 40,000 listings on Airbnb. The company is concentrating its efforts on building this UK base. Meetings, such as the one at the Abbey Tavern in Kentish Town, have been happening all over London as Airbnb seeks to build a grassroots campaign to fight the threat of greater regulation and more restrictive policies.

The hosts at the Kentish Town meeting are told that, earlier this year in Berlin, Airbnb dropped the ball after the citys ruling on short-term lets the suggestion being that it did not want this to happen again elsewhere. As a result of that ruling, the Berlin Home Sharers Club was created and started lobbying to try to change what it saw to be an unfair policy. In London, the 90-day rule may itself not be onerous compared to other cities, but there are growing calls for further regulations .

Airbnbs Jonathan steers clear of telling the group that they should lobby for change. On the one hand, would Airbnb like to see homesharing groups set up all over Europe? Absolutely, he says. Would it share in their interests? Absolutely. But whether those sharing clubs decide that their only interest is to share electricians and plumbers or to take political action is completely up to them, he says.

The next slide focuses on Barcelona, a city where, in 2014, Airbnb was fined 30,000 for breaching tourism laws. Later, another slide listing write to your MP as a suggested activity is shown. Writing letters to local newspapers and selected officials is obviously something that we would want to see concerned hosts do, but only if it applies to them and if theyre motivated to do so, Jonathan says.

Chris Lehane, Airbnbs head of global policy and communications, said the clubs act as a voice against the powerful.

These folks absolutely should have the capacity to go out there and represent themselves, and weve been clear that we want to provide that support and provide some of the infrastructure, he said. This can be an incredibly effective advocacy tool. I think weve been pretty transparent and open about that.

The networks of host groups, which in effect lobby on behalf of the company, are an illustration of how far Airbnb has grown since its inception in 2007. Back then, founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia could not afford the rent on their San Francisco flat and so put three airbeds on the floor and charged $80 a piece for their first guests.

Even by the rapid standards of growth in the tech industry, the company has expanded very quickly. It is now valued at $30bn, and claims two million property listings in 191 countries. That valuation puts the worth of the Californian firm at more than Hilton Hotels.

Wouter Geerts, an analyst for Euromonitor International, says this rapid growth has led to the corporatisation of Airbnb, with more listings from other hospitality companies and people with multiple properties. That might be hotels or estate agents, serviced apartment providers. They all look at Airbnb and think actually what is stopping us putting these properties on Airbnb as well and making extra money?. And of course there are more and more stories about landlords that push out long-term tenants because they can make more money through Airbnb, he said.

One of the most frequent criticisms of Airbnb has come from the hospitality industry, which has complained of the differences in regulation that hoteliers have to operate under, compared to Airbnb. But the organisation that acts as the voice of this industry in the UK says it is not just about them. Many councils in London have expressed their concerns recently, says Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association. Much of that is because the sharing economy and in particular we are talking about the unlawful professional landlords, the pseudo-landlords operating illegally has put a huge strain on rental prices.

Increasing levels of hostility to Airbnb have also started to come from the neighbours of those who let their homes through the website. Last month a property court in London ruled that homeowners whose leases say that their homes can be used only as a private residence cannot rent out their properties as short-term lets. The case came after the neighbours of Slovakian interior designer Iveta Nemcova informed the freeholder of the building that she was listing her flat in north London on Airbnb. As a result, Airbnb hosts have been warned that they could be in breach of the terms of their mortgages and building insurance policies.

One homeowner who spoke to the Observer said that the ground-floor flat in her building had been rented out on Airbnb by a tenant without the knowledge of the owner. As a result, the house insurance of the whole building was potentially invalidated.

In London, Westminster City Council is investigating 1,200 properties alleged to be let in excess of the 90-night limit. Enforcement notices have so far only been issued against two. In practical terms it is a real challenge for us to gather evidence to prove that individuals are letting properties for over 90 nights, a council spokesman said.

The scrutiny that Airbnb faces from both users and policymakers around the world comes after the sites runaway growth. John ONeill, director of the Centre for Hospitality Real Estate Strategy at Pennsylvania State University, estimates that the number of hosts has doubled in the last year with revenue up 60%. With that growth has come an ecosystem of support companies, typically property management firms that submit the advert for the property onto the website and then may manage guests arriving and leaving, dropping off and collecting keys, for example.

The exact effects of this growth on the hotel industry are unclear. The British Hospitality Association said it would be unfair to say there had been an impact on the demand for its members services as a result of Airbnb and instead the association focuses its criticism on the effect on housing. Airbnb says that its growth has been a reflection of how people live, and describes the attacks from the hotel industry as disappointing but not surprising, rejecting claims that it has a negative effect on the housing market.

Homesharing puts money into the pockets of regular people and spreads guests and benefits to more communities and businesses, the company said in a statement. Countless cities around the world have introduced clear home-sharing rules, and we will continue to be good partners to policymakers and work together on progressive measures to promote responsible homesharing. The vast majority of hosts follow the rules, it said.

Where the Airbnb debate goes next, after such a period of rapid growth, is unclear. Some hotel companies, instead of continuing to fight Airbnb, have chosen to join it. The larger hotel chains are moving away from trying to combat Airbnb. Initially there were some kneejerk reactions of we have to lobby against this, we dont exactly know whats happening, they are not regulated well. Most of the companies have moved on from that now and they have started to realise certain potentials that it brings, said Geerts. There is this movement of looking at short-term rentals not as a negative, but more as a positive, and seeing the changing demands of consumers.

This was illustrated in April when French hotels group Accor, said to be Europes largest hotelier by room numbers, paid 118m to acquire Onefinestay, which offers short-term lets on expensive homes.

ONeill estimates that there are 70 lobbyists working for Airbnb in the US, trying to get favourable legislation passed to benefit the company. Most hoteliers I speak with have accepted Airbnbs existence and growth. Their concerns have more to do with levelling the playing field between hotels and Airbnb operators, because Airbnb has so many unfair competitive advantages relative to hotels, he said.

Others have said that regulators need to be fair in how they set out the rules that Airbnb and other similar companies must adhere to. Robert Vaughan, an economist with accountancy firm PwC, said there was a huge variation in those affected from someone renting out their sofa, to landlords with multiple properties and there is a difficulty in applying the same rules to all of them.

ONeill says that while Airbnb may continue to grow, it will not have the free rein it had previously. I dont think there will be a free-for-all of unregulated growth as there has been in the past, he said.

Back at the meeting in Kentish Town, the night ends with a positive response to the homesharing clubs idea. We need to write a letter, suggests one host. We should meet every three months, suggests another. As the meeting draws to a close, nearly everyone agrees on the need for a club. Jonathan jumps in again: I do want to stress that there are other sorts of flavours to home-sharing clubs, he says, launching into a description of a collective bedsheet-washing initiative, but few are listening. As the meeting ends, the group are asked to put their hands up if they want a local club. Nearly every hand goes up.

The Observer reporter who attended the Kentish Town meeting is an Airbnb host

Growing concern around the world

BARCELONA

Authorities in the Catalan capital recently stepped up their campaign against homes illegally rented out to tourists using homesharing websites. Hundreds of listings were ordered to be removed, and Airbnb and another online rental firm, Homeaway, faced fines of 60,000 each.

Homeowners who want to rent out properties to tourists must apply for a licence, and a team of 20 inspectors has been set up to find those who do not adhere to the rules. The citys mayor, Ada Colau, who took office in 2015, stopped the granting of new tourist licences for homes and hotels. She has blamed the rise in Airbnb popularity for growing tensions between residents and rowdy tourists.

The number of people using Airbnb in Barcelona tripled to 900,000 in the three years to 2015.

REYKJAVIK

The 1,600 short-term property lets in Icelands capital have to operate under strict rules introduced in June. The legislation allows residents to let their property for 90 days a year before they must pay business tax. The move comes as Icelands population of 332,000 is set to welcome 1.6 million visitors this year a 29% increase on last year drawn by the glaciers, fjords, lava fields, hot springs, hiking trails and midnight sun.

The move is one of a series aimed at controlling the rapid rise in visitor numbers, including Game of Thrones fans travelling to the filming locations of the television drama. One report estimated there was a 124% increase in Airbnb rentals in one year as residents cashed in on the popularity of the country, with more than 100 flats available on the capitals main street alone.

MOSCOW

Airbnb said last year that the Russian capital was one of its fastest-growing markets, fuelled by high inflation and low incomes. Activity doubled in one year, driven by an increase of single rooms in apartments, which were being listed for short-terms lets in an attempt by many homeowners to make ends meet, given the countrys economic problems.

The growing interest in Moscow on Airbnb brought it into the top 10 most popular cities by bookings on the website at a time when there was no sign of legislative regulation to restrict use of the service. The sharp increase came at the same time as falling wages, which were down 8.8% in the first half of last year. The average price of a private room for a night in the city is 27, and 45 for an entire home, according to the site.

LISBON

The city has bucked the trend of some of its European neighbours, and instead worked to make it easier for short-term rentals to operate. Hosts are required to register their properties as short-term rentals but there is no limit on the number of nights per year that they can operate.

Mayor Fernando Medina has said people should not be scared of the new tourism dynamic and wants the city to be able to take in more tourists, in turn reducing the number of empty buildings in Lisbon. Tourism is seen as an important part of Portugals economic recovery. Airbnb listings in the greater Lisbon area have almost tripled in the past three years.

SAN FRANCISCO

Although the city is home to Airbnbs HQ, it also operates strict rules for hosts, who have to register with authorities. If Airbnb advertises an unregistered property it can be fined $1,000 a day for each listing. One action group has posted wanted flyers. The crime? Airbnbing our community and destroying affordable housing for immigrant, minority, and low-income families. Resident groups have campaigned against Airbnb and there have been reports of tenants being evicted so landlords can list on the site. Last year Airbnb successfully campaigned against Proposition F, or the Airbnb initiative, planned legislation that would have reduced the number of days owners can rent their properties. Airbnbs victory was helped by its grassroots homesharing club, which voted in large numbers against the law.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/oct/29/airbnb-backlash-customers-fight-back-london


Recent Tweets

Call Now Button