Finland's largest cities and a number of municipalities around the country have drawn up a list of new rules for the letting of short-term accommodation through Airbnb or other property platforms.
The guidelines, published by the Building Inspection Association, include changes specifically aimed at professional or other permanent short-term rental hosts.
The association — which represents a large proportion of Finnish towns and cities — has taken the view that if a host does not live in the property but rents it out on a regular basis for short periods, they should be required to apply for a permit.
"One of the characteristics of this type of accommodation is that it is primarily offered for a short period of time, for example only for a few days," Leena Salmelainen of the City of Turku told Yle.
A special permit is therefore required because there has been a substantial change in how the property is used.
"We are now drawing the line as to when a change of use is needed. If a dwelling is converted into accommodation, that is a material change of use," Salmelainen added.
In total, the association lists 11 criteria for assessing whether or not the property can be viewed as a short-term accommodation unit. The list includes whether or not the accommodation is furnished, whether or not a travel declaration must be made in order to stay there, and whether or not the tenant has the right to use storage spaces.
The association's rules are based on much stricter regulations affecting short-term rentals drawn up by the City of Tampere.
Salmelainen also noted that the association, cities and municipalities are not making it difficult for people to rent their own home occasionally, for example for a holiday or for a weekend, via Airbnb or any other platforms.
"What Airbnb was originally, is still okay. It doesn't turn a residential apartment into an accommodation unit," Salmelainen noted.
Cities are also not restricting longer-term rentals, for example for a period of a few months for people on business trips.
"We have a lot of people who need longer-term accommodation for work," Salmelainen said.
Differing views on Airbnb rentals
The attitude towards Airbnb lettings in Finnish cities has been somewhat mixed, with guidelines and even the law interpreted in different ways. The needs of cities and municipalities are also different.
With the new rules, cities are hoping to have a more nationwide view on short-term rentals, but building inspectors in urban areas will still have discretion to decide when to intervene.
"We have cities and municipalities that would like to see this kind of activity not interfered with," Salmelainen said.
The City of Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland has one of the most relaxed attitudes towards Airbnb rentals, as there were no guidelines in place like there were in Helsinki, Oulu and Tampere even before the new association's new rules were published.
This reflects the importance of tourism to the local economy, and the number of Airbnb accommodations on offer in Rovaniemi is the highest in Finland, per capita.
New regulations on the way
In Salmelainen's view, the differing attitudes towards this short-term rentals can be explained by how much residents of certain cities have found the activity harmful, and how much they have raised objections with local authorities.
Contacts or complaints filed with building associations usually arise because the Airbnb activity is causing some kind of nuisance to other residents of the property, for example in an apartment building.
Fire safety is also an issue that needs to be addressed, Salmelainen added.
"The technical requirements for obtaining a building permit for accommodation are exactly the same as for a hotel; one of the most important is that there are two exits, in effect two stairwells," Oulu's Deputy Director of Building Control Tapani Hoppu said.
Several municipalities have requested that the need for legislation in this short-term rental sector be examined and assessed at a ministerial level. The ministries, under the environment ministry's leadership, have started to prepare a regulation on short-term rentals as part of the Building Act, which will enter into force in 2025.
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