Airbnb is an online service and not a property agent, the EU’s top court has ruled.
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.
Airbnb argued that it is an electronic platform based in Ireland and providing online services under EU single market rules.
An investigating magistrate at the Paris high court (Juge d’instruction tribunal de grande instance de Paris) asked the European Court of Justice, in Kirchberg, if the booking site fell under EU electronic trading or under French property 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 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.”
“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.”
“Finally, third, the Court stated that there was nothing in the file to indicate that Airbnb sets or caps the amount of the rents charged by the hosts using that platform.”
Serge Cachan, chairman of Ahtop, said in a press release issued after the opinion was published on 19 December:
“We take note of this decision. The e-commerce directive has shown its limits; it must be changed as soon as possible so that it joins the 21st century. It is urgent that the [French] government makes its voice heard in the coming months in order to radically transform EU competition rules. Proving the legitimacy of our fight, the Hoguet [French real estate] law, on the other hand, has not been fundamentally called into question. The court has prompted the French state to comply with European rules, so that its measures can be applicable to Airbnb Ireland UC. Along with public authorities and numerous municipalities that have already tackled the problem head on, we will continue to mobilise ourselves to change the climate around Airbnb Ireland UC.”
Delano asked Airbnb for comment.
The matter will now return to the Paris high court for final adjudication.