Local residents and officials in southwestern France have responded with anger to a decision by the Pau court to suspend measures previously put in place to control the number of short-term rentals in the area.
The Pau administrative court halted the measures on June 3, overturning a decision voted in in March by authorities in the Communauté d’agglomération du Pays basque (CAPB).
The CAPB includes 158 communes across the Pays Basque (Pyrénées-Atlantiques). The group had, on March 5, authorised rules designed to balance long-term rental options with the spread of short-term rentals, such as those on Airbnb. The rules were inspired by similar ones in Paris and Bordeaux.
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This included measures to restrict companies setting up new short-term rentals in 24 communes that are under housing pressure, including Bayonne and Biarritz.
The idea had been that landlords would also have to compensate by proposing a space which can be used for long-term rental accommodation in the same town. This must be equal to the same number of square metres ‘lost’ to short-term rentals, and cannot involve building new properties.
This was intended to mean that local people would not be pushed out of the area by high-yield short-term lets. The measures had been due to come into force from June 1, and would gradually be applied to all holiday lets.
However, it would not have applied to property owners renting out their principal residence for up to 120 days of the year.
However, the court’s suspension came after 65 owner agencies, property agencies and concierge services joined together to request the legal suspension of the measures, which they said amounted to a “serious attack” on their commercial and professional operations.
Lawyer for the agencies, Victor Steinberg, said: “We argue that the demand for [long-term accommodation] compensation is disproportionate to its purpose, which is to preserve housing…
“The magistrates in Pau expressed serious doubts [as] elected representatives of the CAPB had not demonstrated that the housing shortage was linked to the development of tourist rentals.”
But local associations have disputed the court’s decision, and are now calling for residents to march against the suspension this Wednesday, June 8.
‘One home more important than two’
Roland Hirigoyen, vice-president of the CAPB in charge of housing, said the decision was a "catastrophe".
He said: "The interests of a few have now won out over the general interest of the community assembly and the right to housing in the Pays Basque.”
Short-term holiday rentals have increased by 130% in the region between 2016-2020, the CAPB has said, rising from 7,150 listings to 16,400.
This rise is making it difficult for long-term residents to find housing, the group claims, as 20% of housing stock in the area is on average made up of empty lets or second homes. This figure rises to as much as 45% in popular areas such as Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
In the latter area, 12,000 demands for social housing remain unmet.
Environmental and housing activist collective Alda coined the slogan: "The right to have a home comes before the right to have two homes”, and more than 8,000 marched under the banner in Bayonne on November 20, 2021.
Graffiti tags reading 'Euskal Herria ez da salgai' ('The Basque Country is not for sale') have also appeared on the front of estate agencies, such as on the window of the Stéphane Plaza Immobilier branch in Ustaritz.
Mr Hirigoyen, of the CAPB, said: "After the decision of June 3, I fear the reaction of the population.”
A 32-strong group of local resident and activist associations have now joined together to create the ‘Herrian bizi (living in the Pays [Basque])’ forum.
The “popular movement”, as it calls itself on its website, is calling for residents to protest across the region, demanding compensation in terms of square metres”.
The need for the measure has become "urgent and vital for a territory in the midst of a crisis”, it said.
The group’s spokesperson said on June 4: “The challenge is to save and regain more than 20,000 housing units, and rent them out on a yearly basis.”
Local politicians have also taken up the cause, including Peio Dufau, of the Basque ‘abertzale’ (‘patriotic’) coalition, Euskal Herria bai (‘Basque country yes’). He is proposing a rule that would mean that properties can only be purchased by people who have already been living locally for 3-5 years.
The CAPB is now planning to take the case to le Conseil d’Etat to have the suspension cancelled and has promised to fight the ruling in the long term.