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A statement of intentions. The Barcelona city council has begun 2024 with the resolution to clamp down hard on breaches of the law restricting tourist apartments in the Catalan capital and, for this reason, it announced this Tuesday a fine of 420,000 euros for the property owner who rented out almost all the apartments in the building, located at Carrer Ample, 24 (Ciutat Vella) illegally as tourist accommodation. According to the council, the fine comes after months of investigation and follow-up by municipal inspectors from the Directorate of Inspection Services and the Ciutat Vella district, and from the Guardia Urbana police, who have verified that for years the owner has evaded fines and penalties from the council, claiming that he was renting the homes legally, under long-term contracts to tenants who appeared as leaseholders of the illegal tourist accommodation.

Thus, on repeated occasions, the owner was able to avoid fines by terminating rental contracts or changing the name of the supposed holders, as final deadlines for payments under the city council fine procedures approached. The owner of the building, consisting of family apartments, rented out 14 of its 15 flats as tourist accommodation, through the Booking and Airbnb platforms, without any authorization for tourist activity. Since 2018, municipal inspectors have been imposing fines on apartments at the address, while at the same time demanding the deactivation of the listings on both rental platforms. Through the investigation carried out against professionalized offenders, it has been possible to determine that the owner was deactivating and re-activating the listings with different names, photos and hosts, in order to avoid the inspection action of the city administration.

In this period, the owner also stated in all cases that he did not know what his tenants were doing, and that they always and in all cases deceived him and used the flats to sublet to tourists. After months of monitoring and accumulation of evidence, following a joint inspection in April 2023 by municipal inspectors, the Barcelona police and the Ciutat Vella district administration, it was found that in the building, made up of a ground floor and four upper floors with a rooftop terrace, 14 of the 15 existing dwellings were occupied by tourists, and none of the flats had licences for tourist use. In addition, on the remaining floor, there lived a tenant who had an old renda antiga lifetime contract, and it was this person who managed guest arrivals, departures and collection of keys.

Barcelona third deputy mayor Albert Batlle: "This was an action which did a lot of harm to the other residents in the area. We have to say that it was a criminal network."

The city council proceeded to fine the property owner after bringing to light all of this activity, which had been organized to evade the administration and use the homes for fraudulent purposes, also failing to meet tax obligations for tourist and commercial use, while incorporating the renda antiga tenant into the tourist management of the property. This activity is considered a very serious offence, which has led to the start of a legal process with a proposed fine of 420,000 euros, an amount calculated from the estimated illegal profit obtained, together with other aggravating circumstances regulated by Catalonia's tourism law. As well, the council is to send all the information contained in the file to the tax department, so that the property owner also responds, if required, to the public treasury.

Reduction of massive illegal renting to tourists

This action by the inspection services of the Barcelona city council, forcefully punishing repeat, professionalized offenders, some of whom are taking advantage of loopholes to run illegal tourist accommodation business in the city, is possible thanks to the fact that large-scale illegal tourist flat rentals were detected by the thousands during the years 2016 and 2017, and this has now been reduced to a scale of just over a hundred per month at this time of year. With the situation as it is now, the inspection services continue to pursue general illegality in tourist accommodation, but at the same time they have a very accurate map of professional illegal activity and can design, as in this case, more personalized action to monitor and take punitive action in a strong and effective manner.