December 16, 2019 / 7:13 PM / in 5 months

Airbnb, online service or property agent? EU court to rule December 19

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Is it an online booking service? Or a real estate agent? U.S. homesharing site Airbnb will on Dec. 19 know how it should be labeled when Europe’s top court rules on the issue amidst a backlash from the hotel industry and some cities.

FILE PHOTO: A woman talks on the phone at the Airbnb office headquarters in the SOMA district of San Francisco, California, U.S., August 2, 2016. REUTERS/Gabrielle Lurie/File Photo

The ruling could have far-reaching consequences, particularly as Paris will host the Olympics in 2024 and the IOC has agreed to promote Airbnb for accommodation during the event.

The issue underlines the quandary regulators face in dealing with new online services venturing into traditional businesses but not subjected to the same onerous rules.

Airbnb has in recent years clashed with hoteliers and authorities in cities from New York to Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris, accused of worsening housing shortages and pushing out lower income residents.

The company, which matches people wishing to rent out all or part of their homes to temporary guests via a website, found itself in the dock following a complaint by French tourism association AHTOP.

A Paris prosecutor subsequently charged Airbnb of breaching the country’s Hoguet Law which governs the activities of property agents. A French judge then sought advice from the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

The CJEU will issue its ruling on Dec. 19.

Airbnb won backing from a CJEU court adviser in April, who in a non-binding opinion said the company should be treated as a digital service provider and free to operate in the bloc. Judges follow such advice in four out of five cases.

However, the court could also rule in favor of hoteliers. In a 2017 ruling on Uber, judges said the taxi app should be classified as a transport service and rejected Uber’s argument that it was just a digital app acting as an intermediary.

Airbnb has already faced off several challenges by AHTOP in France. It has previously said that the 50-year real estate law does not apply to an internet platform, and that it is working with governments to help diversify tourism and protect housing.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by David Evans

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