"People are buying properties just for holiday lets". This is something you often hear now in the property sector, which is already talking about a new bubble and one with a difference on the Costa del Sol and in other major cities and tourist resorts: holiday rental properties. The regional government's Minister of Tourism, Francisco Javier Fernández, asked the government a few months ago to regulate this type of business, because it is now becoming increasingly difficult to find properties to rent long-term. In Malaga city more than 600 people are eligible for housing assistance, but they can't find anywhere to live. The advantages of platforms like Airbnb, where users comment on their experiences, and the amount of money owners can earn, means that many prefer holiday rentals to traditional ones. On average, the owners of a holiday rental property in Malaga province can earn 4,500 euros a month; those renting out a bedroom can earn 2,000 euros, or 1,300 if the room is shared. The problem is that this goose with its golden eggs is damaging the market.
The phenomenon is not new in Andalucía: the Junta has been regulating this type of rental for a few years now, demanding that properties meet certain standards such as air conditioning in each bedroom or direct outside ventilation, and this has reduced the numbers of suitable properties considerably.
The more than 30,000 properties available on Airbnb in the province, plus the number of hotel beds, means that Malaga can now accommodate 250,000 tourists a day. Of those, 60 per cent would be staying in a self-catering property.
The numbers are growing. The DataHippo portal, which collects data from digital rental platforms, says Barcelona is the leader in Spain with 24,029 beds advertised on Airbnb, followed by Madrid (22,909), Valencia (8,120), Seville (6,973) and Malaga (5,762), although the figure for Marbella is almost the same (5,721). In addition there are similar platforms such as HomeAway, HouseTrip and Only-Apartments.
DataHippo also shows that there is a considerable imbalance in some places: Mijas, for example, has 13,000 beds available in rental properties compared with 2,000 in hotels. If all the tourist properties in Frigiliana were to be occupied, the population would almost double, from 3,000 to 5,000. Benahavís would be the second, increasing from 7,300 to 12,200. However, the average price to stay in these villages also varies, from 122 euros a night in Frigiliana to 344 euros in Benahavís, the highest in the province.
Despite this 'boom', there are problems. The national markets and competition commission is taking Madrid, Bilbao and San Sebastián councils to court because it believes that restrictions they have introduced are detrimental to the interests of consumers and users. However, these are not the only local authorities to have done so.
In April this year Palma, where only six per cent of holiday rental properties are registered, became the first place to ban this type of rental altogether. The mayor, Antoni Noguera, said others would follow, and that has been the case. One month later the government of the Canary Islands drafted new laws to ban holiday rentals in tourist areas.
In June, Rincón de la Victoria also decided to restrict holiday lets. "We took the decision because of complaints from local residents and problems that we at the town hall have experienced ourselves when we have needed to find somewhere for people, such as the victims of domestic violence. The prices have shot up. Places that used to be available for 200 euros now cost 600 or 700 and in the end everybody ends up paying through their taxes," says the mayor, Francisco Salado. He insists that holiday lets need to be restricted "for the sake of coexistence".
Carlos Pérez-Lanzac, the president of the Association of Holiday Properties of Andalucía (AVVA), however, thinks differently. "Right now, no town hall in Andalucía has the right to restrict properties which are used for tourism. No mayor, of any political party, can take away the rights of private property or the citizens," he insists.
The municipalities on the coast are the most keen to find a solution, because they all have at least 2,000 self-catering beds listed. Inland, the town of Ronda now has the same balance of beds in hotels and Airbnb accommodation as coastal resorts. Antequera and Álora are not far behind, although in their case they only have about 1,000 beds each.
In Malaga city the mayor, Francisco de la Torre, is urging local people to report properties which are being rented out illegally to the police as soon as possible. He says holiday rental properties are a logical complement to the hotel industry, but they are not growing at the same pace. The hotel sector disagrees: they believe the increase in holiday lets is unfair competition.
Carlos Pérez-Lanzac is positive about the future of regulation, especially now that holiday portals are only allowing legally registered properties to advertise. Details of every Spanish property advertised will now also be passed to Hacienda, the tax authority, as well. He also stresses the economic impact of tourist properties in Spain, which amounts to about 124 billion euros, from a sector in which 85 per cent of clients are foreigners. "All this contributes to making the Costa del Sol a competitive destination," he says.
The increase in holiday properties is also putting up long-term rental prices in general and Malaga has become the most expensive province in Andalucía in this regard. To alleviate the situation, the government has announced plans to build 20,000 social housing properties in Spain to bring down rental prices, and in Benalmádena the council is offering a substantial discount on the IBI tax for people who rent out their properties to long-term tenants.
It seems that everywhere in the province is affected, apart from one small village. Alfarnate, with just 1,113 inhabitants, has no hotels or holiday accommodation registered.
For Carlos Pérez-Lanzac, the market is now starting to regulate itself as supply increases and some holiday lets become less profitable. In the meantime, though, the word 'bubble' is frequently being heard in the property sector, and it is becoming increasingly common to see articles in the press saying, for example that long-term rental prices are increasing much faster than salaries.