The European Union’s highest court has rejected a case filed by hotels against Airbnb, arguing that the home rental site should be subject to the same strict rules governing French estate agents. Airbnb has denied acting as a real estate agent, and the court agreed.
An adviser for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued a non-binding opinion saying that Airbnb should be treated as a digital service provider and a member state cannot restrict its free movement.
In 2017, the hotel industry lobby group AhTop filed a complaint, arguing that Airbnb violated a French law regulating the activities of real estate agents. A Paris prosecutor agreed and charged the company.
Airbnb denied acting as a real estate agent and said the law is incompatible with an EU directive on “information society services”. So an investigating judge then asked the ECJ in Luxembourg to give a ruling on how to interpret the law.
And the ECJ Advocate General, Maciej Szupunar, agreed with Airbnb and said “a service such as that provided by the Airbnb portal constitutes an information society service,” and that France, by restricting an information society service in another member state (Ireland, where Airbnb has its European headquarters), violated the EU directive.
ECJ judges normally follow its advisers’ non-binding opinions and typically give their ruling two to four months later.
Airbnb welcomed the opinion, saying it gave “a clear overview of what rules apply”.
France is Airbnb’s second-largest market after the United States. Paris is its biggest single market, with around 65,000 listings.
The French hotel industry, like in many other countries across the world, accuses the online rental platform of unfair competition. City governments, including Paris and Barcelona, want more restrictions on rental platforms, over concerns that they are turning some neighbourhoods into tourist-only zones.