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To limit the proliferation of homes dedicated to use as tourist accommodation. And to prevent them from dominating the market and creating shortages in housing for residential use, and the gentrification associated with that. These are the objectives of the decree-law approved this Tuesday by the Catalan government which will apply the handbrake to this part of the housing market, as from the moment it comes into force, housing for tourist use in 262 Catalan municipalities will be subject to prior planning permission. This include the towns and cities with the largest populations, including those in the Barcelona metropolitan area, as well as most of the popular tourism areas of Catalonia, both on the coast and in the mountains.

The objective of this decree-law is, for the first time, to provide general regulation via the town planning regime for housing use as tourist lodging, in the face of the current situation in which, in the best cases, it has been the municipalities who, based on their own criteria, have introduced regulations, such as limiting areas or types of housing. In fact, until now it has sufficient to make a declaration of the new use of housing, but without having to meet urban planning requirements. According to government sources, until now, the only limitations were to have a certificate of habitability, for the dwelling to be furnished and a ban on renting by rooms.

By contrast, the new regulation will require a prior urban planning licence to be obtained, which will entail having common general regulations but will still leave it up to municipalities to adapt their town plans based on criteria such as ensuring that property is used residentially and justifying, in all cases, that they have surplus housing in order to allocate homes to non-residential uses, one use of which would be their rental by tourists. In addition, the decree sets a maximum limit of 10 homes for tourist use for every 100 inhabitants, a limit that cannot be exceeded under any circumstances and is currently exceeded by 47 Catalan municipalities. In other words, it will be necessary to first guarantee access to residential housing for the resident population before opening the housing stock to tourist use. Finally, a tourist housing licence will have to be renewed every five years. All this could lead to a reduction in the number of tourist flats in certain municipalities.

With these measures, the Catalan government wants to stop residential market supply being reduced when homes become dedicated to tourism use, as well as being able to anticipate price increases. With regard to the localities affected by the decree, there are 262 municipalities that fall into one of two categories: the first affects municipalities with problems of access to housing, that is to say, they have what are called "stressed" markets with high demand, which is the case in large cities and the most touristed localities. The second instance is the possibility of "disruption" of the urban environment. In this way, an attempt is made to avoid not only the proliferation of housing for tourist use in cities with tense markets such as Barcelona, but also to put a stop to situations such as those that occur in mountain towns where teachers or doctors have difficulty finding residence because there is an excess of homes dedicated to tourist use. In any case, the list of municipalities will be revised within five years.

What about existing tourist housing?

For currently existing tourist housing, it should be borne in mind that until now, prior planning permission was not required, but when the decree-law enters into force, it will be subject to the same regime, so that such existing accommodation has to obtain a license as well, once each municipality establishes the parameters under which homes of this type can be authorized in its municipal territory. However, there will be a period of five years to obtain the licence, but always subject to the free market regime established by each municipality and without any acquired rights from the fact that the tourist housing unit is already in operation.

When existing tourist housing owners can prove they have made investments in the activity that could not be written off within five years, they could be granted a five-year extension, which would, however, also mark the end of any special type of right acquired. As well, the entry into force of the decree-law is expected to be imminent in order to prevent a "call" effect under which there could be a race to register new homes for tourist use before the entry into force of the regulations, as well as to curb new increases in residential market rental prices.

Responsibility of the municipalities

In any case, this general regulation gives the municipalities the responsibility of including these licenses in their own urban plans, so that it will be the council in each municipality that will have to decide whether or not to allow the existence of tourist housing, always having to certify firstly that residential use housing needs are covered and, therefore, that part of the housing stock can be allocated to tourist use, always without exceeding the limit of 10 homes for tourist use for each hundred inhabitants.