Airbnb und Co City of Bonn wants to expose illegal rentals

Bonn · The city of Bonn is employing seven inspectors in the wrongful use department in order to track down illegally rented apartments. This also includes taxes that escape the administration.

 In Bonn's Südstadt, apartments are often rented out as holiday apartments for tourists.

In Bonn's Südstadt, apartments are often rented out as holiday apartments for tourists.

Foto: Benjamin Westhoff

To clarify the wrongful use of dwellings is a lengthy process, which the employees of the Office for Social Affairs and Housing are fully aware of. Since the existence of a special subgroup that only deals with this, there have been successes. “But the Housing Supervision Act has pushed us to our limits,” says Bettina Ueding, head of the Housing Department. Bonn and other cities in NRW are therefore calling for an amendment to the law. Although large cities such as Berlin can tackle the problem more acutely and encourage short-term landlords to register, Bonn relies on attentive neighbours, who give investigators tip-offs.

The houses around the Winterstraße in Bad Godesberg have long been regarded as accommodation for medical tourists. The apartments in the high-rises in which federal officials once lived have lost a reputation. “The names on the doorbells are the same but the people who go in and out always change,” explains a local resident. The sticker "alert neighbour" is stuck to the glass entrance door of the block of apartments. Some people are so vigilant that they keep records of who moves in and who moves out. “We hear that the situation is not worse,” says another long-time tenant. “But it's just a matter of opinion.”

Seven employees search for illegally rented apartments in Bonn

In cases of classical wrongful use, 2,000 euros was paid twice, but an alternative resolution was found. In seven cases, “living space was permanently let”. Ten flats, which may have been empty as speculative properties, were rented to new tenants. About 400 houses had been inspected. No further information on current numbers is available.

The employees of the city of Bonn deal with suspicions and above all with trust, as they try to discover apartments that are not used for their purpose. In doing so, they rely on building up a basis of trust with neighbours in order to find out whether flats are rented out. Seven employees belong to this subgroup. “In the beginning, we chose the term task-force because it sounded sleeker,” says Ueding. That was more than two years ag and the tasks have not changed during this time. They are still chasing after those who offer commercial-style private apartments as hotel rooms on online portals like Airbnb. They also monitor whether owners leave apartments vacant in the hope that their value will increase, or whether apartments are used as commercial space. Whereas short-term rentals for tourists are an issue in the Südstadt – where students are allowed to rent out their apartments during the semester break – Tannenbusch and Beuel have problems with speculative vacancies. Bad Godesberg experiences medical tourism, which, however, has declined. The successes sheet for 2018 show that it was precisely the strong fieldwork that succeeded in gaining the trust of local residents.

In Cologne things are stricter than in Bonn. There, 16 inspectors are inspecting more apartments than ever before, and 400 investigations are underway. Since 2014, more than 1,500 apartments have been checked and fines of 510,000 euros imposed. The basic framework is similar: Offences against the statute can be punished, as in Bonn, with a fine up to 50,000 euro. Berlin is taking a harder line: Everyone who wants to offer accommodation via portals such as Airbnb must register with the city. The number that you then receive must be indicated in the online advertisement of the holiday home. Anyone who violates the rules can be fined up to 500,000 euros.

Wrongful use of apartments can be reported by mail

The work of the inspectors is similar in all cities: it is a matter of determining wrongful use in a watertight manner. “At the beginning of the week, we define routes in which we drive around all the properties that we are notified of or that we encounter ourselves,” says a member of the Bonn-based property group. We only ring the bell when suspicion is reinforced. However, people also know how to defend themselves – they hire a lawyer, or simply do not open the door or present non-descript long-term rental contracts. How the employees then proceed is part of the tactic, which we would rather not talk about. “The burden of proof is on us.”, but there are legal limits: For example, Officials cannot rent apartments on the portals in order to obtain data such as addresses, which are only received after guests have booked.

Even if other cities could be more active due to other laws, Ueding is satisfied with what has been achieved so far. "The biggest success is that people know we are here.” But this cannot be measured in figures. The administration is hoping for an amendment to the Housing Supervision Act, which is also being promoted in Cologne. Landlords are required to register and overnight accommodation is limited – in line with the Berlin model.

Members of the public can contact us on 0228/774010 or by e-mail at regarding wrongful use.

(Original text; Nicolas Ottersbach, translation John Chandler)

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