The French tourist cities taking a stand against Airbnb-style lets

Second homes are also in the firing line for some, with residents increasingly complaining about empty properties and difficulties in finding affordable local accommodation

Colourful medieval houses in the historical city centre of Lannion, Brittany, France
Housing stock in Brittany and other tourist towns is becoming increasingly strained
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Cities in tourist hotspots in France are taking a stand against short-term holiday rentals – often known as the ‘Airbnb model’ – as they say that they push prices up and result in a lack of property for local residents.

For example, statistics bureau INSEE states that between 1968 and 2018, the number of second homes on the Brittany coast increased by 3.6 times. At the same time, seasonal holiday lets exploded, creating – residents say – unprecedented tension in housing in the area.

Read more: Second-home protests in Brittany: 'But we buy homes French don't want'

The problem has been exacerbated by the rise in people working from home after the pandemic.

St Malo struggles despite regulations against Airbnb-style properties

One man in his 40s, told Le Figaro that he has been forced to share a space in an apartment hotel with students, because he has been unable to find housing in his hometown of St Malo.

As the head of his own consulting business, he said: “I have been to every single estate agent, and even though I make good money, it is becoming impossible to find housing if you are not a civil servant or have a CDI contract.”

He had previously been living long-term in an Airbnb, but had to leave as high season approached, because the rent more than quadrupled. He said: “I was paying €850 a month. But from the Easter holidays onwards, the flat is rented for €900 a week.”

The problem is still significant despite St Malo having taken out some of the most strict regulations against Airbnb-style properties in France. In summer 2021, it imposed a maximum quota of 12.5% short-term rentals within the main city limits.

However, these are not without controversy; the St Malo rules are the subject of two court cases in Rennes, with plaintiffs claiming that the rules constitute an abuse of power.

Lawyer Mr Guirriec also claims that the regulation does not fully meet the law’s objectives – which is to protect housing and stop the city from becoming a museum in which genuine inhabitants cannot afford to live.

He said: "The St Malo regulation is motivated in particular by the fight against competition with the hotel sector.” He also criticised the "lack of transparency" in the calculation of quotas.

The lobby group Un logement pour tou.te.s en Bretagne (Housing for all in Brittany), said: “Each year the imbalance increases with new housing programmes in favour of second homes, and speculation linked to tourism.

“This causes a surge in real estate prices, impacting the private rental stock as well as access to property. This tension is an obstacle to keeping young working people in the area, and to the housing of low-income households on a year-round basis.”

The collective is now calling for authorities to "class the whole of Brittany as a zone under housing tension, which would allow for a surtax on second homes".

It has also asked for a status of residence in Brittany, which would only allow people to buy property in certain high-pressure areas if they have lived there for a minimum of one year beforehand.

Olivier Ferrando, of the collective, said: “There are 333,000 homes empty for nine months of the year in Brittany…following our movement, some mayors are starting to take action to regulate short-term stays.”

Read more: Protests against second homes in Brittany as housing debate continues

A growing issue across France

Patrick Rayton, mayor of La Couarde-sur-Mer, on the Ile de Ré (Nouvelle-Aquitaine), recently wrote an open letter to his constituents about the difficulties of finding housing.

He said the situation was so bad that a local school in a small village of 1,200 inhabitants was at risk of closure, as half its staff had left, unable to find housing close by.

The Agim estate agency confirmed the issue, saying: “The phenomenon is similar everywhere on the island. We currently have over a hundred families waiting for a year-round rental.”

Several dozen cities across France, from Nice to Colmar, have imposed their own restrictions.

‘Second homes are a real resource for towns’

However, Géraldine Leduc, director-general of Anett, a national association for tourism areas, defended second homeowners. She said: “Second homes are a real resource for towns. It’s no longer the situation in the 1960s, when people would only come for the summer.

“Today, we’re talking about semi-main homes or almost-main homes. The challenge for authorities is to encourage these people to stay longer. Especially during times when the countryside is emptying out, and when local spending is on a downwards spiral.”

She added that second homeowners pay higher property taxes than main homeowners, but “use very few public services, such as creches or local financial aid”.

Similarly, Michel Penhouët, the mayor of the commune of Saint-Lunaire, Ille-et-Vilaine, said that his village was "a ghost town in winter" 20 years ago, but that second home residents have changed that.

He said: “We live alongside our secondary residents: they come in summer and winter, take part in the life of the town, and some of them vote here.”

‘A bit of a powder keg’

However, Mr Penhouët did admit that this has pushed property prices up. He said: “We're reaching Parisian prices. The price of a house has doubled, the price of some plots of land has tripled…and the private rental stock is dropping like a stone.”

Of the 1,720 second homes in the commune, 191 are seasonal rentals, of which 122 have been rented out over the last four years, he said.

He also said that some restaurants in the area have been forced to close two days a week because they cannot find employees. “We are sitting on a bit of a powder keg,” Mr Penhouët admitted.

He added that the rate of second homes has reached 59% in the town. He said: “The problem is that you also have to house people all year round, especially young people. We mayors are not big fans of regulation, but we're at a stage where it may become a bit of a confrontation.”

Land is becoming scarce, especially when the new climate law is ruling out the artificialisation of ground by 2050, he said.

In some tourist areas, however, the anti-short-term rental feeling has already turned violent.

One second home in the village of Caurel, Brittany, was ravaged by arson on May 17, while in January another home was damaged in the same village. Caurel’s housing stock is 60% second homes.

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