Prague’s central district warns of Airbnb ghost town scenario

Airbnb and other sites have radically transformed the Prague accommodation scene. But the most central district of the city, Prague 1, has had enough and says it wants to push ahead if necessary with its own rules for regulating the phenomenon.

Illustrative photo: Polygon Homes via Foter.com / CC BY-NCIllustrative photo: Polygon Homes via Foter.com / CC BY-NC Prague’s city and tourist heartland covers all of what is the central city district of Prague 1. And so it’s not surprising that Czechs with flats or rooms to let in that central location have jumped at the opportunity of boosting their income with short stay rents to tourists. It’s estimated that the earnings can be twice or three times what they could make by renting on the normal domestic rental market.

Some estimates say there are around 3500 Airbnb and similar offers in the district which has just under 30,000 registered inhabitants. To some extent it’s a microcosm of what’s happening in surrounding Prague districts with Airbnb and similar offers estimated to have climbed 20-fold in the capital over the last five years. Prague as a whole is estimated to be offering around 11,500 such flats and rooms for short stays. Their use in the Czech Republic as a whole soared by 60 percent last year compared with 2015.

Common complaints are that hosts of private short stay guests don’t pay the tourist and spa fees that are due or pay taxes on the earnings. Only around 400 of hosts are making those payments, according to Prague 1 council.

But most of all, Prague 1 councillors are worried that the short stay phenomenon is pricing local people out of the centre of the city and it is in danger of making it a ghost town or tourist museum. And although at a national level the Czech government is preparing its own measures to govern the so-called shared economy and does not want to see ad hoc measures, Prague 1 says it is prepared to go it alone if necessary with its own rules.

Prague 1, photo: Maciej Dembiniok, CC BY-SA 3.0Prague 1, photo: Maciej Dembiniok, CC BY-SA 3.0 Ivan Solil is a member of the district’s main council with responsibility for safety and prevention of criminality. He says the number of Prague 1 flats that might be rented out short term could be as high as 7,000 because totally reliable figures are not available. He says the problem is that this is no longer a social phenomenon, but a business.

ʺThere is currently a big problem in blocks of flats because these people living there on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday are not particularly quiet. They use the facilities a bit like a hostel. We have many flats that are around 80 square metres large and over the weekend there are eight to 10 young people there. You can imagine the state of things afterwards."

Solil says the local council is drawing up its own plans for proposed byelaws but would prefer the city council to take the lead because it had real powers in the area. But if this does not happen, Solil says Prague 1 should seek the required powers itself.

"A rapid solution is really needed here. I am not talking about a ban or something like that. But we need clear measures that would even things up with other participants on the market where it’s the shared or rental market.ʺ