ECJ says France can't make Airbnb register as estate agent

Airbnb is an online service and not a property agent, the EU’s top court has ruled

Online short-term rental platform Airbnb scored a victory against French hoteliers Thursday when the European Court of Justice ruled that the US giant is not an estate agent. The ECJ ruled that Airbnb should be considered "an 'information society service' instead, distinct from the subsequent service to which it relates."

The judgement stems from a criminal complaint lodged by the French tourism association AHTOP, claiming Airbnb was breaking France’s property law by operating as a real estate agent without authorisation. French lawyers in particular argued that Airbnb does not merely connect two parties - a landlord and a rental client - but acts as a kind of unlicensed property agent. This is in turn presents unfair competition to licenses tourism operators, they argued. Airbnb, for its part, argued that it is an electronic platform based in Ireland and providing online services under EU single market rules.

On Thursday, a panel of ECJ judges ruled that “France cannot require Airbnb to hold an estate agent’s professional licence as it did not notify the [European] Commission of that requirement in accordance with the directive on electronic commerce,” according to a court press release.

The judges also said that Airbnb qualified as an ‘information society service’ under EU rules. The court ruled that the services provided by Airbnb: “consists essentially of providing a tool for presenting and finding accommodation for rent, thereby facilitating the conclusion of future rental agreements.”

"[The site] is in no way indispensable to the provision of accommodation services, since the guests and hosts have a number of other channels in that respect, some of which are long-standing,” the court added.

The matter will now return to the Paris high court for final adjudication.

This is not the first time Airbnb's practices have provoked criticism from hoteliers, cities and residents that it represents unfair competition and crowds out renters.

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