City of Tallinn wants more scope to deal with Airbnb-style problem guests

Tallnn Old Town.
Tallnn Old Town. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

A conversation has been reignited on what to do with the legislation surrounding short-term let apps such as Airbnb, in the light of disruption some local residents say the phenomenon brings.

Tallinn City Government says it wants to see either amendments to national legislation to make policing the sector more effective, or have more control placed in local authorities' hands, to reflect the fact that Tallinn and its Old Town are a bigger draw for customers, including domestic ones, using short-term lets.

The economic affairs ministry says it is opposed to restricting the right of apartment owners to let out their property to whomsoever they please and via new-style accommodation solutions in particular.

While the City of Tallinn had petitioned the national government around a year ago, calling for amendments to legislation on accommodation in guest apartments, the matter had since stalled between different ministries, who said they wanted to canvass opinions and proposals on the issue.

The arrival of the pandemic meant that tourist numbers were only a fraction of what they had been through 2020 in any case.

The issue affects residents of the Old Town in particular, with complaints emerging of the constantly changing neighbors creating a transient atmosphere as well as disruption caused by unruly guests.

Aivar Riisalu (Center) Deputy Mayor of Tallinn, said that while the law does allow for expropriating an apartment from its owner in the case of repeated violations by short-term rental guests, in reality, this is too drawn-out and costly a process to be viable.

"Furthermore, the legislation on law enforcement does not bring much support in practice; one-time police measures related to excessive noise will not solve the problem as a whole," Riisalu said.

"The police will only intervene once the offense has taken place, but there is no guarantee that noise-related offenses will be committed in the future," he went on.

Ministry spokesperson: New business model types key part of tourism

Kristi Talving, undersecretary of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, told ERR that short-term guest apartments, along with other "new" business model types, are a key component of tourism.

Talving said: "They offer significant added value to those travelers who would prefer a more private place to stay for their family or company, more cozy conditions, a more diverse choice and experience local life more directly than that in a large hotel,"

"Usually such visitors stay longer in Estonia and boost tourism income more, by visiting restaurants, attractions and consuming other services," she added.

Talving noted that as the concentration of guest apartments at its highest in Tallinn, more specifically in the Old Town, there is no reason to make legislative changes nationally, just on that basis, which would affect the nationwide guest apartment market.

Deputy Tallinn Mayor: Not just Old Town affected

Aivar Riisalu said that the Old Town is the most significant area where short-term lets have been having a negative impact on permanent residents, though by no means the only district.

Riisalu said: "Popular areas for short-term apartment rental in Tallinn have also been areas closer to the Old Town - for example, the Kalamaja and Rotermanni areas."

Riisalu said that if the state itself does not want to change the laws, the right to regulate could be given to local government, addressing IT and foreign trade minister Andres Sutt (Reform) on the issue.

"Since the current law does not allow local government to intervene sufficiently, we ask you to re-evaluate the possibility of eiter developing a state regulation of guest apartments or of granting the corresponding authorization to local government," Riisalu wrote to Sutt.

Other parts of Estonia which have seen significant use of short-term apartment lets include Pärnu and Tartu.

Ministry spokesperson: Devolving regulation might have legs

Kristi Talving at the economic affairs ministry, in whose remit Andres Sutt's post lies, said the Riisalu proposal had some merit.

"It is certainly conceivable that one additional measure might be to give local authorities greater powers to regulate short-term apartment rent in their area; we are analyzing this possibility," Talving said.

An attempt should be made to find a measure whereby the goal of combatting noise and disturbance to residents but which less infringes on an owner's right to rent out their apartment, Talving added.

A "sharing economy" also promotes competition and economic growth, she said, whereas strangling new solutions for the service sector does not solve anyone's interests, Talving said, as evidenced by spring and summer 2020 when the Old Town was deserted and many businesses shuttered.

The relevant acts Riisalu noted and which he said were inadequate to the task are the Apartment Ownership, Apartment Associations Act and the Law Enforcement Act.

Ultimately, Tallinn is aware of the importance of tourism, but a balance must be struck, he said.

President Kersti Kaljulaid has in the past name-checked Airbnb, not disapprovingly, in at least one speech.

Coronavirus restrictions are being eased through this month at the same time viral rates are falling, while vaccinations continue to rise.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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