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Anger as surge in holiday lets sees prices rise and locals forced out of Malaga city centre

The interior of a rental apartment in Malaga city centre.
The interior of a rental apartment in Malaga city centre. / SUR
  • A growing number of tenants are losing their homes because the owners want to use them as tourist accommodation

For a long time, artist José Luis Puche dreamed of living in the centre of Malaga. He wanted to be close to the museums, the galleries and the cultural life of the city. Four years ago, he achieved his dream: he and his girlfriend found a “fantastic” apartment to rent in Calle Montaño. “The first year was wonderful. I loved being at the heart of things. My studio was close by, we went to nearly all the inaugurations of exhibitions,” he says. Then one day they noticed more activity in their block, where there were only 12 apartments. “A girl who was renting an apartment put it on Airbnb with the owners’ consent,” he says, and then the problems began. Parties on the landings, noise late at night, damage to communal areas and the occasional fright when a drunken tourist tried to get into the wrong apartment.

The person who advertised the apartment, seeing that it was always full, rented another in the same building to double her profits. “Then it was like a plague; it spread. Other people saw there was money to be made and started doing the same thing,” says José Luis. An apartment of this type would cost 600 euros a month to rent long term, but it can make nearly 3,000 a month from holiday lets. “That’s a lot of money,” he explains.

There came a time when only two apartments in the block were permanently occupied, the one rented by José Luis and his girlfriend, and one other. In September last year they received notification from the landlord that they would have to leave because someone wanted to buy it and rent it as tourist accommodation. By then, their street was full of Airbnb lets. “We already wanted to move, because we felt completely out of place,” he says.

This is by no means an unusual story in the central and eastern districts of Malaga city. The boom in holiday lets is affecting numerous people who work in Malaga and want to rent long-term.

For Andrea, a partner in a graphic design studio, a similar situation occurred but in her case it involved an office instead of a home: one day the landlord told them they had to leave because he was going to use the premises, in the historic city centre, for holiday lets.

Some owners break the law

For the Rentacasa agency, which specialises in rented accommodation, this situation is not unusual. “Many people are being ‘evicted’ because of Airbnb, and the numbers are growing,” says one of the partners, Inmaculada Vegas. The agency’s clients include numerous people from abroad who work for technology companies on the PTA. “Since Easter more than 15 clients have received notice to leave their apartments, all of them in the historic city centre,” she says.

In many cases the property owners are breaking the law, because for the first three years, rental contracts should automatically be extended each year, unless the tenant says they want to leave. The owner can only rescind the contract if he or she is going to live there or needs it for a close relative. “Very few tenants do anything about it, because they don’t want to get involved in legal proceedings,” says Inmaculada.

There have even been some dramatic cases where families have ended up with nowhere to go, because the long-term rental market has become “impossible” because of the popularity of holiday lets.

On average, 33 properties join the tourist accommodation market every day in Malaga province; there are already 10,000 of them, offering 54,000 beds, and more than 7,000 are in the city. The number of properties for long-term rent is currently just 784, according to a recent report by the Solvia agency, which concludes that the number is “clearly inadequate for a city with 600,000 inhabitants and a large floating population.”

José Luis Puche is well aware of the difficulty in finding an apartment to rent in Malaga. It took them four months to find somewhere they liked and could afford, and it meant being outside the historic city centre.

“The best they could offer us there was a 30 m2 apartment for 600 euros a month. We couldn’t even get a sofa in it,” he says. After considering leaving Malaga altogether they found their present home in the Armengual de la Mota area. “We have rediscovered what it’s like to live in a district, with proper neighbours: there are shops, supermarkets... the city centre is becoming inert, just a decorative area for tourists and I don’t understand why nobody seems worried about that,” he says.

Eight months of searching

Lakshmi Aguirre and her partner, professionals in their thirties, have been looking for somewhere to live for eight months. Their case is not directly related to holiday accommodation, but it does reflect the scarcity of long-term rentals in the city. They had to leave their apartment because it was full of termites and damp and the owners refused to carry out repairs. However, they found themselves trapped.

“When a decent apartment comes onto the market it is 400 euros more than they were asking five years ago, and there is still such high demand that you end up being subjected to a type of casting session. They also make some abusive demands, such as demanding six months’ rent as a deposit,” says Lakshmi.

In the end they did find a new home, but they had to pay more than they had hoped: 1,000 euros a month for an apartment in Pedregalejo. “Tourism is great,” she says, “but if it gets to the point where local people can’t even live in their own city, something has to be done.”

Javier, a chef who is also in his thirties, is afraid he will find himself in a similar situation in a few months’ time. He signed his rental contract two years ago, so in theory he should be able to stay there for another two years, but he isn’t sure that will be the case.

“I live in El Morlaco, near the seafront, and nearly all the houses in my complex are used for holiday accommodation. I have a feeling mine might, as well,” he says.