Airbnb Wins EU Battle Over Status as Online Platform

SAN FRANCISCO—The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that France can’t require Airbnb to hold an estate agent’s professional license to operate in the country. The ruling came after a French tourism association, Association for Professional Tourism and Accommodation (AHTOP), complained that Airbnb Ireland didn’t comply with the act known as the Hoguet Law, which applies to the activities of real estate professionals in France.

The European Court of Justice ruled that it acted as an “information society service” rather than a real estate agency. The ECJ said the home-sharing platform did not require an estate agent’s license to operate in France as it was mainly providing a tool for presenting and finding accommodation for rent rather than acting as a broker.

As Airbnb moves toward its planned initial public offering (IPO) next year, the ruling is seen as a victory in its battle to avoid more regulation by city authorities.

“As you will have seen, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that Airbnb should be regulated as an information society service and that a piece of 1970s-era French real estate law should not be applied to our platform,” said Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb co-founder and chief strategy officer, in correspondence to major cities across Europe. “The decision is consistent with an opinion from the court’s advocate general, the position taken by the European Commission during the court hearing, as well as arguments put forward by the French government, who said that they never intended this legislation to apply to Airbnb.”

He added, “We welcome this ruling and see it as a positive step for our continued collaboration with cities. Indeed this case was always about how our platform should be regulated—not whether it should be regulated. Cities can, should and do have their own clear and modern rules for home sharing, and we have worked with governments across the globe on measures to help hosts share their homes, follow the rules and pay their fair share of tax.

“I and my co-founders remain 100% committed to partnering with you to continue that important work,” he continued. “We want to ensure that our platform works for everyone and continue our close collaboration on innovative solutions to the challenges facing cities, while working together to generate new revenue streams for local families, businesses and communities.”

AHTOP spokesman Quentin Michelon said, “We filed our complaint in 2015, and France has since introduced new regulations that apply also to Airbnb. Eventually, Airbnb is going to be regulated in France, just not as a real estate agent at this point.”