Spain’s Canary Islands plan tighter short term rental rules with police backup

By Thomson Reuters Apr 16, 2024 | 3:01 AM

By Corina Pons

SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE, Spain (Reuters) – Soon after Maria Rosa Sanchez reported her neighbour for renting her building’s rooftop in Tenerife as a campsite on Airbnb, police officers carried out an early morning raid and local authorities opened an investigation.

The closure of the campsite, which offered tents for 12 euros ($13.03) a night, is a foretaste of a new hard line towards illegal short-lets on Spain’s Canary Islands, where listings on platforms like Airbnb and Booking.com have soared.

A draft law expected to pass this year toughening the rules on short lets follows complaints from locals priced out of the housing market and from hotels facing taxes and sustainability rules skirted by companies investing in short term rentals.

Authorities worldwide are grappling with similar issues: Canada, Australia and Italy are among many countries which have tightened the rules around short-term rentals to protect local communities.

Canaries tourism head Jessica de Leon told Reuters enforcement support for the islands’ 35 inspectors is the key to success of the new rules.

“We are going to empower (the police) so that they can act when fraudulent behaviour is detected in homes,” she said, adding that the plan could involve 1,300 people, which would include all of the islands’ police forces.

New-build properties will be barred from the short-let market, and property owners with a permit will have five years to comply with requirements that include authorization from neighbours, according to a draft of the bill.

“The first step is to contain the growth, the second is to clean up (existing listings),” said Canaries director of tourism, Miguel Rodríguez.


Other parts of Spain have already passed similar laws, but without such an emphasis on law enforcement. Barcelona’s 70 inspectors are sometimes accompanied by police, according to the mayor’s office spokesperson, while Madrid region has eight short-let inspectors and the city’s 65 general planning permission workers have no police backup, their spokespeople said.

Of 17,000 short-term rental apartments in Madrid, only 600 were inspected between January and November 2023 and just one was sanctioned, according to a government report seen by Reuters. Another 835 hosts stopped renting before being sanctioned, Madrid said.

“What is needed is mass inspections,” said Madrid lawmaker Pablo Padilla, who favours the Canary Island formula.

A spokesperson for the city said it would announce new holiday home regulations this month, without giving details, and ruled out using police as inspectors.

The Canary Islands decided to toughen its rules after the number of short lets exploded in recent years.

El Cotillo, a former fishing village on Fuerteventura, has as many holiday home beds as residents.

“In a few years’ time, there may be practically no people living there,” said researcher Raul Hernandez from La Laguna university, who co-authored a study showing more than a quarter of short-let premises belong to companies.

The archipelago’s seven islands had a record 220,000 short-let beds in March, a 40% increase from 2022 and more than the combined population of Lanzarote, La Gomera and El Hierro, according to official data.


The local holiday home-owners association, Ascav, said the stringency of the proposed rules would eliminate 90% of short-term listings and are unconstitutional.

It proposed creating a tax for all holiday accommodation providers to fund solutions to solve the housing problem.

It also said 200,000 homes were sitting empty on the islands, blaming rent caps to protect long-term tenants from inflation.

Asked for comment, the Ministry of Housing did not address the figure but said it had a transformation and rehabilitation plan and was working with regional governments to act on tourist rentals “to find a solution to this problem”.

Booking.com said it works with authorities in the Balearic Islands and Seville to remove unauthorised listings, which will be mandatory in Europe by year-end.

“Airbnb has worked with governments across the world to balance the benefits of home sharing and housing concerns,” Airbnb said. “We will continue working with the Canary Islands to discuss a way forward that works for everyone.”

The islands’ authorities prosecuted the foreign owner in Maria Rosa Sanchez’s building under existing rules because she had not registered them as bedrooms and she faces a fine of 30,000 euros, the local mayor’s office said.

The owner herself declined to comment. Sanchez said the flat is now rented to a long-term tenant.

“The police come from time to time to check the rooftop has not been rented out again,” she said.

($1 = 0.9210 euros)

(Reporting by Corina Pons; additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Andrei Khalip; editing by Charlie Devereux and Philippa Fletcher)