Return to the fever for tourist housing in Spain. The recovery of international tourism after more than two years paralyzed has triggered the interest of investors who see an opportunity to increase their profitability in apartments. It does so at the risk of the lack of state regulations that try to regulate the most controversial aspects of these facilities, whose progressive advance in cities is in the hands of municipalities and autonomous communities. All this, in full debate on the new Housing Law and with the hotel sector increasing its pressure.
The capital of Spain is one of the areas most stressed by the disappearance of tourist homes, which add fuel to the price tension that they suffer endemically. According to the data available as of January 20 in the license portal of the consistory to which it has had access, it would be equivalent to opening more than one tourist apartment per day in the city. The data also confirms that this ‘wave’ is not limited to the center, but is beginning to spread to less touristy but cheaper neighborhoods on the periphery, such as Tetuán, Usera, Ciudad Lineal or Carabanchel.
Some of them originate from another challenge facing the Madrid administration: monitoring the transformation of premises into homes. The data from the census of premises show how in recent years —as a result of the elimination of the habitability certificate requirement and the municipal norm approved in 2021 that limits its installation to ground or first floors— at least 142 have been transformed into tourist homes . Although the majority continue to be located in the Centro district, which houses the historic center of the capital (34 stores); more and more (61) are leaving the ‘border’ of the M-30 towards districts on the periphery. The one in Tetuán, immersed in a process of gentrification given its proximity to the financial areas of Azca and Cuatro Torres, is the second where these changes of use are growing the most.
Madrid does not change its norm for tourist housing
Last December, the coalition of PP and Cs in the Madrid consistory wanted to modify the urban regulations to adapt them to the legal regime of tourist homes that are installed in the capital. The proposal of those from Martínez Almeida sought to expand mixed uses in obsolete areas of the city through what they called “hybridization of uses”. In the case of tourist apartments, these will be subject to the Special Lodging Plan in force, which received the endorsement of the courts and requires independent access.
The reform was knocked down by the entire opposition, made up of the leftist parties and Vox, who agreed that it did not respond to the current challenges. From the left, voices such as that of former urban planning councilor José Manuel Calvo (mixed group) —in charge of the first special plan developed during the Manuela Carmena legislature— argued that the regulations were not compatible with those for residential use.
The controversy with tourist apartments has become a recurring political debate where each city chooses to regulate it in its own way in the absence of a single legal framework for the entire country. The tourist organization Exceltur has demanded that the Government of Spain establish a state regulation that orders these accommodations in the face of what it considers its “uncontrolled growth”, but that it be done “without invading regional competences”.
To do this, they have transferred to the Executive a proposed decree law in which they propose to define the accommodation activity of these apartments, regulate the activity of intermediaries and Airbnb-type platforms; include this type of housing in the urban developments of the cities or give more power to the permanent owners of the buildings. This “would help to provide legal certainty, reduce litigation and better control the effects of tourist apartments.”
This is how tourist apartments are regulated in other cities
The ReviTUR report, carried out together with the city councils of Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga, Seville, Valencia and San Sebastián, shows how the rise of these establishments has generated a negative impact on the most touristy neighborhoods and affected the quality of life perceived by their habitants. Where tourist apartments have skyrocketed, an increase in housing prices, a transformation of local commerce, deterioration in neighborhood coexistence and the expulsion of residents have been detected, for which they believe it appropriate to “avoid its detrimental effects on identity and coexistence “, keys to the “attractiveness” of these emblematic neighborhoods.
Barcelona has become the most active city in the fight against illegal tourist housing. Its mayor, Ada Colau, announced in June that they had detected 360 establishments of this type in a first inspection after tracking more than 21,000. The city of Barcelona has reactivated its shock plan to stop urban speculation in the face of the increase in tourism, while Colau has demanded from Brussels a regulation that stops the rise in tourist housing in all large European cities.
The Valencian Community will end in December the new tourist tax that applies to all tourist establishments, including homes, but the town halls will be in charge of applying it voluntarily. This tax will oscillate between 1.5 euros for tourist flats of superior category and 1 euro for the standard ones. The Valencia City Council has already tried to limit the construction of tourist homes in the old part of the city (Ciutat Vella) with a Special Protection Plan, setting a maximum of 60 days a year to rent these properties. This plan was partially overthrown by the courts, which thought several restrictions “excessive”, such as the 150-meter separation between entire apartment blocks.
Cádiz has also promoted a modification of its General Urban Planning Plan to limit the loss of tourist apartments in the city, but the Junta de Andalucía has announced its appeal to it, alleging “general interest” and creating a political conflict between both administrations, from different colors. The same battle is brewing in Seville, where its city council proposes to equalize the conditions of the VUT to those that hotels, hostels, pensions or tourist apartments already have. This activity has no specific regulation in the Andalusian capital either.
Another example of a place with serious housing problems is Andorra. His government has chosen to decree a two-year moratorium for new authorizations for tourist apartments that do not follow “sustainability and quality criteria” while evaluating the country’s tourist capacity, which facilitates decision-making regarding future permits.
A lower quality model, according to Exceltur
Gabriel Escarrer, CEO of the Meliá Hotels group and president of Exceltur, considers that the current legal framework, which depends on the municipalities and autonomous communities, is “insufficient and does not have effective instruments to guarantee compliance”, something that gives rise to ” a high degree of illegality in the market”. “Since this is not regulated, it can affect the country’s tourism model,” he said. According to data from the organization, it has gone from 346,921 tourist beds in 2010 to 788,136 in 2019, where tourist homes are responsible for 82% of this growth.
For Exceltur, this model is of lower quality: visitors contribute less in terms of economic impact —161 euros per day for tourist housing compared to 255 for other establishments-; lower job creation —35.9 jobs per 100 beds compared to 96.1 in hotels— and a lower contribution to public arcades —1,626 euros per bed compared to 8,213 in hotels with 3 or more stars—. The entity quantified the tourist contribution of the hotels in 2019 at 3,461 million euros compared to the 712 million generated by the VUTs.
According to data from Europa Press, the tourist rental offers twice the profitability of a traditional long-term rental. For an average home of 80 square meters, earnings rise to about 19,737 euros per year compared to 10,138 euros for the typical rent. However, its growth reduces the availability of residential supply, especially in the affected neighborhoods. In the old town of Seville, 61.2% of residential homes are used for tourism. In the area of Madrid’s Puerta del Sol they are 28.3%, while the figure drops to 18.3% in the area of the Central Market of Valencia. In these areas, home purchase prices rose by more than 9% in the last decade, while in the rest of the city they barely did so by 0.5%.