Airbnb removes all Viennese municipal apartments from its site

Airbnb is removing all municipal-owned buildings in Vienna from its accommodation rental platform as it announced a set of measures intended to support "responsible tourism" in Austria.

Social housing in Vienna
Social housing makes up a large proportion of apartments in Vienna, but the city has long tried to crack down on their use as tourism sublets. Photo: Alexander Klein/AFP

The tourism rental platform promised to remove social housing, called Gemeindebau in Austria, from its site, but also announced five new measures to support the city. 

“Airbnb shares the goal of the City of Vienna to protect living space – especially in municipal housing – and is therefore removing listings in municipal housing from the platform as part of a voluntary initiative,” the company said in a statement.

In fact, Wiener Wohnen — Europe’s largest property manager, an organisation owned by the city which operates nearly a quarter of a million apartment rentals — already forbade its tenants from subletting via Airbnb, but not all tenants have obeyed the rule. Airbnb had previously requested that the city report individual listings, rather than block specific addresses from using its platform.

A recent ruling from Vienna’s Commercial Court confirmed that city-owned apartments could not be rented on platforms like Airbnb.

Now, Airbnb has agreed to remove the apartments, and only to allow listings at the specified addresses if the lister specifies that it is not a municipal-owned apartment.

It has also granted Viennese authorities access to Airbnb to help ensure the rules are followed, and has committed to remind Austrian users regularly of the rules and to remove any listings that violate them.

Its other measures to support responsible tourism in Austria include a digital registration for hosts, as exists already in countries including France, the Netherlands and Spain, as well as publishing figures on Airbnb’s usage in Austria and continuing to share tax data with the Finance Ministry.

The company also announced the launch of a telephone hotline where neighbours can reported suspected illicit rentals, as well as other issues like loud parties in a rental, directly.

Vienna Housing Councillor Kathrin Gaál said she welcomed the measures, but told Der Standard she would be waiting to see if they were matched with “consistent action” to prevent social housing being subletted.

Vienna’s system of social housing and low rental prices have attracted an international reputation, but like many other cities, it has had difficulties with over-tourism. In 2016, the city amended its Tourism Promotion Act to force people to pay taxes on income from short-term sub-lets even if these were only occasional and therefore not considered a business.

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EXPLAINED: How to not be ‘bumped’ from an overcrowded Austrian train

Austrian trains have been overly crowded recently, with some people who had valid tickets having to be removed for "safety reasons". Here's how to make sure you get to your destination.

EXPLAINED: How to not be 'bumped' from an overcrowded Austrian train

Train travel is a safe and relatively comfortable way to get around Austria, but there is still much to do to make these journeys better for travellers, especially for commuters.

In Austria, a combination of high fuel prices, the adoption of the subsidised Klimaticket, and Vienna’s new short-term parking system, combined with other factors including a green surge and nice weather, has led to an increase in the search for train travel.

The operator ÖBB expects an even higher surge in the next few days, as warm weather meets holidays in Austria. This has led to several journeys being overcrowded, with people travelling standing up or being removed from trains when they reach capacity and the number of people compromises safety.

READ ALSO: Half-price Europe train tickets on offer in Interrail flash sale

“Safety is the top priority. If the train is too full to be guided safely, passengers must be asked to get off. If they don’t do it voluntarily, we have no choice but to get the police. This happens very rarely,” Bernhard Rieder from ÖBB told broadcaster ORF during an Ö1 interview.

Why are trains overcrowded?

There are several reasons for the surge in train travel, but they boil down to two things: rising costs for other means of transportation and environmental worries.

With galloping inflation, Austrians have seen prices of fuel climbing, and as the war in Ukraine continues, there is no likelihood of lower petrol prices any time soon.

At the same time, since March, Vienna (the destination for many domestic tourists and commuters) has instituted a new short-term parking system, basically removing free parking in the streets of the capital.

Driving has become more expensive when everything else seems to be costly, and many Austrians turn to train travel. Particularly for those who are holders of the Klimaticket, a yearly subsidised card that allows for unlimited travel for just over €1,000 – early buyers could get a hold of the ticket for under €900.

READ ALSO: Nine German expressions that perfectly sum up spring in Austria

The ticket allows travellers to “hop on and hop off” as they wish, making occupancy more unpredictable. However, it is possible to reserve seats even if you have them, and there are low-budget bundles for commuters.

The Klimaticket was created in an effort with the Environmental Ministry, looking to increase the use of greener transport alternatives in Austria.

The environmental concern is also one of the reasons why train travel is on the rise globally – travelling by train is also more convenient in many cases, with comfortable seats, free wifi, a dining area and the fact that you can start and end your journey in central stations instead of far-away airports.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Trains are in fashion so why is rail travel across Europe still so difficult?

Why won’t ÖBB only sell as many tickets as there are train seats?

A reasonable question, but that is not possible with the way train journeys operate in Austria – and in most countries.

Some tickets are “open” and flexible, meaning that people can board any train from a specific time. These are particularly useful for commuters who might be late leaving work, for example.

Additionally, holders of the Klimaticket and other regional yearly offers don’t need to buy tickets. They only need to show their Klimaticket card with an ID once checked.

READ ALSO: Austria’s nationwide public transport ‘climate ticket’ now available

What is ÖBB doing to avoid overcrowding?

After the several incidents of overcrowding when people even had to leave their trains despite having valid tickets, ÖBB announced it would bring additional trains for the peak season around the holidays (May 26th, June 5th and 6th and June 16th), increasing the number of seats by “thousands”, according to a press statement.

What can I do to guarantee my journey?

Despite the increase in offer, the operator still warns that “on certain trains, demand can still exceed capacity”.

The best way to try and guarantee your journey, according to ÖBB, is by reserving a seat.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

“A seat reservation is the best way to use the most popular train connections. Starting at €3, you can reserve a seat in ÖBB trains in Austria”.

Reservations are available online at the ÖBB app, at the ÖBB ticket counter, and at the ÖBB customer service at 05-1717.