“Local officials this month passed tough new rules to block the development of Airbnb and holiday lets in 24 towns and villages across the region, including in Biarritz.“
With its elegant boutiques and stretches of golden sand, the French resort of Biarritz has long proved a popular holiday destination. Wealthier visitors have flocked to the Hôtel du Palais, while another crowd comes for the surf and heads inland for stunning mountain hikes.
Yet as tourism has boomed, local residents have increasingly struggled to find somewhere to live. The reason, say campaign groups, is holiday homes. The number of holiday lets across the French Basque country has more than doubled to 16,500 between 2016 and 2020. Private rental accommodation is scarce and there is almost a two-year wait for social housing.
Local officials this month passed tough new rules to block the development of Airbnb and holiday lets in 24 towns and villages across the region, including in Biarritz.
From June, landlords who want to let a second home for holiday stays will need to provide an equivalent property to rent for the whole year in the same town or village. As many landlords will struggle to find and fund a third property that matches the requirements, advocates hope the new rules will bring thousands of flats back on to the rental market.
Maider Arosteguy, the mayor of Biarritz, described the current situation as “untenable”. At the vote, she raised the case of a couple going through a separation but forced to remain in the same accommodation despite incidences of domestic violence. She said officials had to “find solutions to enable young people and those on average incomes to stay and live in the Basque country”.
The move may help people such as Charlotte Belot, a 27-year-old environmental campaigner. “When I finished my degree, it was impossible to find somewhere to live,” she said. “So I moved back in with my parents. I later found a shared house where the contract ended each June so the landlord could turn it into a tourist flat for the summer.
“I was lucky enough to be able to go home again, but some of my housemates had to rent Airbnbs for two months at summer prices as they had nowhere else to go. Finding a place here is really hard.”
Edouard Gruson, director of the Maisons du Sud-Ouest property agency, agreed that “something had to be done for long-term lets”, particularly for younger people, and believes the new rules will have an effect. He estimates that for every long-term let the agency advertises, it receives 30 to 40 inquiries. Still, Gruson described the new rules as “too tough”. He understood the desire to target smaller apartments but hoped the rules will be reviewed for bigger houses.
The Pays Basque is not the first region in France to restrict the development of Airbnb and similar platforms. In some larger towns and cities, listings have to be registered with the local authority, while primary residences cannot be let out for more than 120 days per year. Paris and Bordeaux are among those to have implemented tougher restrictions, particularly targeting short-term lets.
The new rules in the Basque country will affect both existing and future lets, as licences need to be renewed every three years. Landlords will not be able to convert ground-floor commercial premises such as beloved local boulangeries into accommodation.
Campaign group Alda described the decision as a “social and ecological victory”, though for it and many others this is still the start of a process. Some see the need for complementary measures on second homes. There are disagreements over whether the measures will harm tourism or improve it by protecting accommodation and the local character
Questions remain too over the prospect of landlords simply removing their holiday lets and putting the properties up for sale. “In that case, they would again be out of reach for those who want to live and work here,” said Belot. “So this new measure is not enough, but it’s a start.”