Articles
Videos
Podcasts
Search
Close this search box.

Seasonal rents are soaring and cornering tenants: “If they could, they would make contracts with us by the day”.

For tenants' associations, the existence of short-term leases, which in some neighborhoods of Barcelona exceed 40% of supply, has become a real loophole in the Housing Law that is straining the market with no regulation in sight.
eldiario.es

When the regulation of rents in Catalonia came into force on March 16, writer Blanca Llum Vidal called the property manager of the apartment where she lives with her son in Barcelona. His contract, for which he pays €810 per month, expires in 2025. But he wanted to anticipate and make sure they couldn’t raise his monthly payment. This is established in the standard. But the response he got was not what he expected.

– If the regulation forces us to lower the price, we will rent it on a seasonal basis. If not, we will raise it a little, about 200 to 300 euros per month.

That was the administrator’s message. And, since that day, Llum Vidal has been looking for an apartment. But it is not the only one that has been threatened or directly displaced by seasonal rentals. This type of contract, which is outside the rental regulations, has skyrocketed in recent months in the Catalan capital, to the point of accounting for between 20% and 40% of the supply on real estate portals such as Idealista, according to available data.

According to the different sources consulted, this boom has been detected for years, in parallel to the approval of different regulations that favor the tenant, such as the extension of contracts from three to five years or the price cap. Temporary leases allow the owner to make annual contracts and, therefore, to have more freedom to make them more expensive or to terminate them.

But Barcelona is also influenced by the growing arrival of foreign workers -most of them digital nomads- who come to the city because of its good climate. As well as the celebration of events such as the America’s Cup sailing competition, which involves the disembarkation of 2,500 people – only counting the teams and the organization – from spring until the end of the year. “It’s a perfect storm that adds to the housing crisis the city has been suffering for years,” sums up Carme Arcarazo, spokeswoman for the Sindicato de Inquilinas.

X-raying the seasonal rental boom is not easy due to the lack of official data. An Idealista report for the third quarter of 2023 spoke of “meteoric” rises to 28% of the rental market in the Catalan capital, second only to San Sebastian in Spain. Another study by the Observatori de l’Habitatge de Barcelona (OH-B), with ads from the same company and from the same period, left the percentage at 19%, but with some neighborhoods, such as Barceloneta, touching 50%.

No further studies have been published since then. But a more recent analysis by elDiario.es confirms the upward trend. From October 2023 to March 2024, this newspaper has counted all available listings on Idealista every 15th day. The result is that, on average, users encounter 46% of ads for temporary rentals. And in some downtown neighborhoods they are around 60% (in Barceloneta, Hostafrancs, Esquerra de l’Eixample or Sant Antoni).

Despite the differences between reports, what the experts point out is that there is no doubt about its growth. “There is a clear displacement of homes that were offered as residential rentals and are now seasonal or tourist homes,” says Helena Cruz, geographer and author of the OH-B study. It also compared the evolution of the conventional and the temporary and tourist offer between 2022 and 2023. While the former is down 895 floors, the latter is up 830. His conclusion is that these are communicating vessels.

This is in addition to higher prices. According to elDiario.es, temporary rents are 17% more expensive than residential rents. OH-B, on the other hand, found that apartments for less than 1,000 euros per month accounted for only 6% of the ads for long term rentals, while among temporary rentals they accounted for 1% of the total. 1,600, on the other hand, were 46% and 65.4%, respectively.

Writer Blanca Llum Vidal, 38, lives in a rented apartment. His lease expires in 2025 and the landlord has already informed him that if they cannot raise the rent, they will rent for the season.. Kike Rincón

With no changes in sight, Blanca Llum Vidal’s current apartment may end up swelling that pool of temporary contracts. “It seems like the big landowners always find a way to suffocate people,” laments the 38-year-old writer. His landlady is a large landlord who owns several estates, including his own 15+ story property. “He doesn’t need 300 more a month, whereas for me it means being able to pay for the apartment or not,” he adds.

A waterway… and a law fraud?

For tenants’ associations, the existence of temporary rentals has become a real leak in the Housing Law that is putting even more stress on the rental market and that the Administration should plug. But there is no regulation in sight for it. The Ministry of Housing created a commission in December to study it and so far it has met only once, while the Generalitat assures that it was drafting a new regulation, but that it cannot be approved due to the early elections on May 12.

Currently, in the 140 Catalan municipalities where the rent cap is in force, price increases are limited. Hence, some landlords have seen seasonal rentals as a shortcut to raise prices. But housing lawyers warn that if this is done with tenants who use the property as a domicile, landlords would be in breach of the law. “There are landlords who advertise seasonal rentals, and so stipulate in the contracts, but they really rent to people who use that home as a habitual residence, and that is a fraudulent use of this figure,” warns Elga Molina, legal advisor on housing.

That is the case of Paula Fernández, a 28-year-old woman who shares an apartment with three other girls in Cerdanyola del Vallès, in the metropolitan area of Barcelona. Although they have lived in the house for four years and are registered there, they have a seasonal contract. Before the new Housing Law, they had a residential lease, but when it was time to renew it, the landlord told them that they either signed for one year or nothing.

“We were caught off guard and complied for fear of becoming homeless,” Paula explains. It was September 2022. A year later, the contract expired and they had to re-sign. Their landlord was again proposing a twelve-month term, but after Paula’s insistence they agreed to a two-year term, provided they were listed as students (although they are not).

The figure of seasonal rental is very little developed in the Urban Leasing Law (LAU), but the rule at least makes it clear that it is intended for uses other than housing. For example, students and doctoral students passing through, highly mobile professionals or digital nomads, people who have their homes under construction… “The reason, and not the duration of the stay, is what determines whether a contract is seasonal and this must be accredited, even by providing the employment contract,” adds Molina.

But no one asked Fernandez to prove he was a student. I could not have done it. “It’s a contract whose sole purpose is to skirt the law and charge more,” he laments. Since they signed the seasonal rent, they pay 120 euros more per month, up to 1,120, when their apartment, according to the ceiling set by the Government Index, should be worth between 600 and 700 euros.

“It’s horrible, all the time watching the movements we make. Every time we complain, the real estate company assaults us with calls and e-mails threatening to terminate the contract,” laments Fernández.

Arcarazo, of the Sindicato de Inquilinas, says that they are receiving more and more cases of tenants like these young women with what she describes as “junk contracts”.

Paula lives in Cerdanyola del Vallès on a two-year temporary rental contract even though it is her primary residence. Kike Rincón

Casa Orsola, bastion of resistance

If there is a building that symbolizes neighborhood resistance against housing speculation and gentrification, it is Casa Orsola, a modernist building in the Eixample neighborhood whose owner wants to evict. Seasonal rental also plays a role in its history.

The property was acquired by a Catalan real estate fund when the intention of Ada Colau’s government to pedestrianize its street, Consell de Cent, was already known. Today this road is among the ten best in the world, according to the Time Out leisure guide, and the 19 remaining neighbors are reluctant to accept that they must leave.

Some of them have indefinite contracts, others have their contracts expiring in a few years and others are already out of contract, but are still living in their homes (paying their rents in court). Elisenda Paños, who has lived in the building for 35 years with her partner and teenage son, and Josep Torrent are two of them. And both have court dates for their eviction.

From the terrace of the estate, Paños and Torrent regret that the property has “closed in band” to their negotiation proposal. The five vacant apartments have been renovated and are rented on seasonal leases. If Josep or Elisenda pay between 600 and 800 euros per month for their house, the new temporary ones range between 2,000 and 2,400 euros. Plus the fees, which are about 1,000 euros, and the deposit, which ranges from 4,000 to 5,000 euros. “Of course, they’re not interested in us,” Paños comments with derision. “If they could rent to us by the day, they would,” Torrent notes.

The Casa Orsola, according to the neighbors themselves, is also a viewpoint that allows to observe how the neighborhood has been emptied of acquaintances to welcome young foreigners with high purchasing power and with whom they hardly greet each other. Ana, the only long-time tenant of the estate, sees herself in a few years “alone and surrounded by tourists”. He has gone up to the terrace to chat with his neighbors and enjoy one of the first warm afternoons of spring. “The only good thing about this situation is that we neighbors have united,” explains Elisenda Paños, a fact that contrasts with the little contact they have with their temporary neighbors, who are not even aware of their demands. “They don’t want to know. For them, the city is a decoration. They are only interested in good weather and not being robbed, but they don’t realize that the robbery is being charged 2,400 euros in rent,” says Josep Torrent.

The newly opened pedestrian section in Consell de Cent, in Barcelona. Xavier Jubierre

While they hope to win the pulse of the property, some at Casa Orsola are looking for an apartment. But in the Nova Esquerra del Eixample, the cheapest area of the district, rent costs on average 1,200 euros. “The neighborhood is very nice, but you think, for whom?” asks Paños, as he steps out of the doorway and looks around, where laundromats and coffee shops have replaced local commerce.

The “extraordinary” demand for Copa America

The Barcelona real estate sector, for its part, rules out that the massive transfer to seasonal rentals is due to landlords wanting to avoid the new regulation. “We must prevent fraud, but Barcelona is a university city with students, professors, digital nomads, temporarily displaced workers… And seasonal rentals are a necessity,” argues Carles Sala, spokesman for Colleges and Associations of Real Estate Agents (API) of Catalonia.

One of the real estate companies specializing in high-end housing for foreigners, Engel & Volkers, also argues that the increase in this short-term rental would not be understood without the growth of a demand that they claim is real. “The non-EU client has increased exponentially; North Americans are number one right now and before 2022 they were residual,” details Albert Gonzalez, director of the firm’s Barcelona rental division, who also attributes this to the approval of the so-called Startups Law of December 2023, which facilitated the arrival of digital nomads to Spain.

“They are profiles that do not rent for seven years, but for eleven months or one year,” González continues. “They test the city and if they like it, they decide if they end up staying, even buying,” he adds. These are tenants who have more purchasing power than the people of Barcelona, with household incomes that can easily exceed 6,000 euros per month, he says.

In view of this, the decision of those who want to obtain profitability from their real estate assets ends up opting for temporary contracts. González crunches the numbers to make it even clearer: “If an owner with five or six properties rented them for 1,500 euros and the regulation now forces him to reduce it to 1,000, he will switch to temporary rent and can charge 2,500 euros a month, shall I explain?

In addition, the America’s Cup, the macro sporting event that will be held from August 22 to October 20 and will attract thousands of people to the city. “The demand is extraordinary,” Gonzalez cites. One of the companies participating in the competition has already requested 250 rental apartments, preferably in areas such as the central Ciutat Vella. So far, 150 have been closed.

If the Administration does not put a stop to temporary rentals in the coming months, all the actors interviewed agree that they will continue to grow. This newspaper has asked the Generalitat whether it has carried out specific inspections to ensure that this figure is not used fraudulently, but the Department of Territory has not responded.

From her apartment in the Sarrià neighborhood, barely 70 m2 and with no natural light, Blanca Llum Vidal explains that, in addition to raising her voice to look for an affordable rent, she has just joined a housing cooperative, a model of co-ownership of real estate that has grown in recent years in the Catalan capital. in the shelter of Colau’s government. He wants to escape, he says, from the “spiral of real estate speculation”. “Big cities push you out and at the same time attract you, because that’s where there are more job opportunities,” he reflects. “We are caught in a contradiction.”

Pau Rodríguez / Sandra Vicente / Victòria Oliveres

More from

Choose your language

You can always edit it later

Welcome to

Display Europe!

We’re enhancing our site, and you can assist us in this process by reporting any issues. Click the flag symbol in the bottom-right corner and drop us a line. We value your patience and your support.

Choose from 15 languages