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Online home rental sites such as Airbnb might be good for travelers, but many cities complain that they drive up prices and take away housing for residents. Berlin recently banned short-term rentals. Barcelona's mayor plans to stop people from letting out their homes on websites without a license. Airbnb's No. 1 destination is Paris. And that city's trying to strike a balance. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Airbnb has grown exponentially in the City of Light. In 2012, it offered about 4,000 rentals. Just four years later, there are more than 70,000. In some neighborhoods in August, there are more Airbnb renters than there are residents.
David Downie, who writes about Paris, says online home rentals have changed the character of his neighborhood and his building.
DAVID DOWNIE: So what you have is this constant turnover of people dragging their suitcases in across the cobbled courtyard late at night, stamping around wearing shoes in these old buildings that have no acoustic insulation. There's no insulation in these old building. It's completely out of control.
BEARDSLEY: Ian Brossat is deputy mayor of Paris. He says his city doesn't want to ban Airbnb outright.
DEPUTY MAYOR OF HOUSING IAN BROSSAT: (Through interpreter) We are happy that Paris is a very important destination for the company, but we are worried about its impact on housing. We don't want to lose more housing for Parisians when there is already a severe shortage.
BEARDSLEY: A new law allows residents to only rent their properties for four months of the year. Longer than that, says Brossat, and it's clearly a tourist operation and you must apply for a permit and register your home as a commercial property. Those who don't can face a $30,000 fine. NPR reached Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder and CTO of Airbnb. He says the company is doing its best to work with cities.
NATHAN BLECHARCZYK: We've entered into tax agreements with nearly 200 different cities around the world and, in the process, collected $85 million dollars to date.
BEARDSLEY: Deputy Mayor Brossat says Airbnb is now collecting the city's tourist tax but has refused to stop people renting out their property for more than four months. This week, a French newspaper criticized Airbnb for paying hardly any corporate taxes. The paper said if France is such a popular destination, it's because of the fantastic public transport and tourist infrastructure, all paid for by French taxpayers. A hotel organization is suing Airbnb for unfair competition. But Eric Hewson, who works as a concierge, says it's tourists' concern about security that's caused the drop in bookings.
ERIC HEWSON: The recent terrorism attacks - so they affect us a lot. It's not at all Airbnb (laughter), no.
BEARDSLEY: Hewson rents out a room in his own apartment on Airbnb. He says it gives him a little extra cash and something else.
HEWSON: It makes me, also, the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. And it's really interesting. It also brings, economically, positive things for the city.
BEARDSLEY: Hewson says if people spend a little less on lodging, they spend more on restaurants and shopping, and it all comes back to Paris in the end. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.