Prague City Hall, in its capacity as the appellate authority, upheld a first-instance decision whereby the building office had fined the owner of an apartment unit for renting it out under the Airbnb scheme.
In March 2021, the building department at the Prague 1 Municipal District Department imposed a fine on an apartment owner on grounds of the fact that he had used the Airbnb platform to provide accommodation services on the premises. This decision by the building office was eventually upheld by Prague City Hall as the appellate body.
The officials found that when the owner made their apartment (for which an official occupancy permit had been issued, identifying the premises as private residential space) available to third parties on Airbnb, they acted in conflict with the designated purpose as per the occupancy permit. The apartment owner contested the decision, arguing that this manner of using an apartment was not outside the limits drawn by building-law aspects, given that the apartment was used for people to reside there; according to the owner, it should make no difference whether the apartment was used for short-term rentals or under a long-term lease. The owner further noted that no structural changes had been made in the apartment which would give rise to a change in the purpose of use.
According to City Hall, however, a change of the purpose of use is not conditional upon physical modifications to the apartment, whereas any change of the designated purpose (such as using the apartment for accommodation services) requires the prior consent of the building office. City Hall bolstered this argument by referring to, among other things, the implementation decrees and regulations which define an apartment as a set of rooms (or a single room) which, in terms of its structural layout and fittings and furnishings, satisfies the requirements for long-term stays and is designated for this purpose of use. It is this designated residential purpose which, according to City Hall, represents the difference between premises which serve as a residence and premises which serve as accommodation.
City Hall also endorsed the view of the Supreme Administrative Court (expressed in judgment 28 Cdo 1589/2012) according to which the question whether or not a change in the use of a building has occurred must be answered based on the requirements of special laws protecting public interests. Among these are, for instance, fire prevention rules (which pose substantially different demands on fire protection in apartment buildings and in accommodation facilities, respectively). In order to be able to enforce the fire protection legislation, says City Hall, the administrative authorities must have current and correct information as to the purposes for which individual apartments are being used.
The question is whether the authorities will continue to pursue this line of investigation, i.e., whether they will proactively examine if the actual use of apartments is in compliance with the given permits. If they were to do so, this could spell substantial trouble for a great number of Airbnb operators and other service providers.
Decision by Prague City Hall of 29 July 2021 (case reference redacted)