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Protection of users in the platform economy: mapping the scenario


We have just launched a survey on the regulation of online platforms in the sharing economy and we would greatly appreciate your support!

Please, take part to our survey! You will need just few minutes and you will greatly contribute to our research!

The survey is available here: https://limesurvey.uclouvain.be/limesurve…/index.php/965632…

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The survey is in English, French and Italian.

Thanks for all your help!

Rossana Ducato, Enguerrand Marique, Anne-Grace Kleri, Cynthia Delronge

Short-term furnished rental: the importance of local French regulation.

In the area of short-term furnished rental, in particular passing by Air BNB, France has adopted a complete regulation. The rules focus on owners who offer short-term rental of dwellings they do not occupy, i.e. secondary residences. It is then necessary, before any announcement online, to make an administrative pre-rental declaration, and to address it to the mayor of the municipality where the housing is located. The platforms are also responsible and have an obligation to inform the owners about their obligations, and must ask them for a declaration on the honour attesting the respect of the rules. The municipal declaration number must appear in the ad on the site. The platform must also ensure that an owner who rents his own accommodation does not exceed 120 nights per year, beyond which the dwelling can no longer be considered as his main residence (he must therefore comply with the rules for secondary residences).

These national rules in fact provide only general information on the regulation of the short-term rental of furnished dwelling. French cities and metropolises exceeding 200,000 inhabitants may adopt specific rules and have a much stricter policy. This is the case of Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Nice, Nantes, Lille for example (The full list of cities according to the number of inhabitants is available here). But the rules established in the metropolises apply as well in the main city as in all the other cities composing the metropolis. Thus, in Nice, the rules apply in the centre of Nice but also in villages such as Utelle or Isola, which have fewer than 1000 inhabitants. Also, it is essential to learn about local regulations if the housing is located in a large city or in a metropolis.

Let us take the example of Paris. The municipality regularly communicates its desire to limit the development of short-term rental platforms and its willingness to act to avoid the transformation of the central districts of Paris into neighbourhoods without inhabitants, and mostly composed of furnished apartments for rent. The Ile Saint-Louis or the boroughs around the Louvre are particularly targeted. In these places, it may be more profitable for the owner of a dwelling, to rent it to tourists rather than rent it year-round to a person who will make it his main residence.

In Paris, a person wishing to start a short-term rental activity in a furnished dwelling must not simply make an administrative declaration. He must obtain a municipal authorisation. The procedure obliges to furnish several documents but also the respect of the urban planning rules. To avoid a shortage of housing, the municipality of Paris has set up a compensation system. The main rule is that, an area which will be used for economic activity, such as short-term furnished accommodation, it should not be classified as a dwelling. It this is the case, an administrative transformation is necessary.

This transformation cannot take place if the owner does not, at the same time, transform an equivalent surface into a dwelling. Compensation in fact presupposes communicating vessels. The conversion of premises used for economic activity cannot take place unless an inverse transformation takes place at the same time by the same owner. The owner must therefore be an owner of at least two properties, one being a dwelling and the other serving an economic activity, such as a shop. The shop must also be at least the same surface area as the dwelling. The compensation mechanism will make it possible to transform housing on an economic surface, authorising the short-term rental activity, but also the shop, which will become compulsory a classic housing, to rent to a person who will make it his main residence. This stage of the procedure is mandatory and the municipality does not issue the authorisation to a furnished apartment owner who does not justify having made the compensation. Failure to comply with this rule is punishable by a civil fine of € 50 000 and an obligation to rehabilitate the dwelling with a penalty of € 1 000 per day and per square meter. The penalty pay therefore be very high.

Other cities in France have set up prior authorisation, even if this is not always accompanied by compulsory compensation. This is the case, for example, in Lyon (compensation in certain districts) or in Marseille, where authorisation does not presuppose compensation.

Actually, it is advisable to inquire about the local rules as soon as the housing belongs to a large city or metropolis. Also, housing located in the metropolitan area of Nice does not require compensation, but is subject to an authorisation, which can be issued of the same owner only up three dwellings, and for a maximum period of three years, renewable two times. These limits may also exist in other municipalities, such as Strasbourg, where compensation is only required for owners who apply for a change in use for a maximum of two units and for a period of 9 years. These cities do not hesitate to set limits to limit the development of the furnished tourist rental. Local regulation is therefore of fundamental importance and the margins of freedom left by national regulation are primarily for municipalities and not for homeowners.

To conclude, local regulation is particularly important for short-term rental in France. Although the national rules provide for a broad outline of the legal framework and taxation, cities and metropolises may have major limitations, which may vary from one city to another.

France: First sanction of a short-term accommodation platform in application of the Digital Republic Law… and first extensions.

Judgment: Tribunal d’instance, 6ème arrondissement de Paris, 06 feb. 2018, n°RG11-17-000190.

Context: The Digital Republic law (Law n°2016-1321, 6 October 2016) has created rules concerning platforms. Some of these rules are general, such as the obligation to provide loyal information to users (Consumption Code, art. L. 111-7), and others are more specific, such as the rules which apply to platforms that offer short-term rentals of furnished housings. These rules impose obligations on both persons who offer furnished housing on these platforms (declaration obligation, administrative authorisation in certain cases, written contracts…), but also on the platforms themselves, targeting in particular Air BnB (Tourism Code, art. L. 324-2-1).

The platforms must thus inform the lessor of the obligations of declaration or authorisation, and must obtain from him a declaration on the honour of the respect of these obligations, specifying whether the dwelling is his principle residence or not. They must also have the declaration number, which will have to be mentioned in the advertisement. They must also count the number of nights rented through the platform, and monitor that the number does not exceed 120 nights per year for a principle residence. This number can be communicated to the housing city. The platform cannot offer housing once the 120 night are exceeded.

These obligations of the platform must be the subject of an application decree, which must specify the methods of control and the sanctions. This decree is pending, while the decree relating to the obligation of the lessors was published in April 2017, and those, more general, relating to the obligations of loyalty had been published in September 2017 (on those decree, view the legifrance website).

This does not preclude justice from ensuring compliance with the new obligations since they came into force. This is what was done in a judgment of the Court of Instance of Paris, on 6 February 2018, in which Air BnB platform was condemned for the non-compliance with its obligations under the Digital Republic law.

Solution: The tenant of a Parisian apartment has published an announcement on the Air BnB platform offering accommodation for short stays. The sublease authorisation, requested one year after having started this activity, was refused by the owner. It was therefore forbidden for the tenant to offer this accommodation on the platform. The housing has often been rented, exceeding the number of 120 days per year, beyond which it can no longer be considered as a principal residence, and must, in Paris, to be rented as furnished accommodation for short stays, to be the object of an administrative authorisation. The owner of the housing has assigned the Air BnB platform, considering that it has committed errors incurring its liability, and that it must be condemned to the refund of the sums received at the occasion of the illicit leases carried out on its site.

The Tribunal notes that the platform has committed mistakes within the meaning of the Article . 324-2-1 of the tourism Code. Thus, it should have checked the authorisation of the lessor, obtain the certificate on honour, inform the lessor of its obligation of authorisation, check that the threshold of 120 nights was not exceeded, even for the period before 9 of October 2016 (enter into force of th Digital Republic Law). For 2017, the threshold was exceeded on June, 20, but his account was not suspended. The Tribunal deduces from the non-respect of those obligations negligence and abstentions of Air BnB that allow the lessor not to comply with the law. 

In defence, Air BnB assures that it is only a “support” platform, and that it has not committed any fault, since nothing oblige it to ask for an authorisation or to verify it. It therefore considers itself to be a networking platform and not responsible for non-respect of a residential lease. It also states that the Digital Republic lax cannot be applied to it for facts took place before it came into force.

The Tribunal recalls the obligations provided for the platform by the Tourism Code. Although it is not essential to verify the existence of the authorisation, the platform must obtain a declaration on honour, and ensure compliance with the rule about 120 days of rental per year. Air BnB has not informed its user of these obligations, it cannot prove to have given this information, and has not received the declaration on honour. Similarly, housing was offered beyond the 120 days allowed for a principal residence. The standby obligation imposed on Air BnB since October, 9, 2016 must force the platform to make a count for 2016 and 2017. Finally, Air BnB was alerted as of May, the 2nd, 2017, but the account continued to operate.

The Tribunal therefore considers that the platform failed to comply with the means to not respect its contractual obligations. If the latter remains responsible, the platform is also responsible.

Air BnB is thus ordered to pay the owner of the dwelling the sum she has collected for unlawfully renting the housing. The Tribunal finds that this is an unlawful exploitation of the property belonging to the owner, and that the fruits derived from it must be returned to the owner. It must also compensate the owner for moral damage, and reimburse the expenses incurred.

Comments: Although it is likely that Air BnB is appealing this judgment, it has significant interests and goes further than the Digital Republic law in the obligations of the platforms.

Beyond the application of a sanction to the obligations of the platform resulting from the Digital Republic law, the judgment interprets these obligations extensively, by creating an additional one in the case of the short-term lease. The judgment is also surprising by the transfer of the burden of proof of the information obligation of the platform: this proof is requested from the platform itself even though it is her user who claimed to have not been informed. The jurisprudential interpretation makes it possible to go beyond the vision of the role of the platform as limited to linking. Its role goes further and includes special obligations. 

Extensive interpretation of the legal obligations of the platform. The first interest of the judgment lies in the assertion of the platform’s obligations in the particular sector of seasonal rental. The judgment make a list of the obligations stemming from the law of 2016. It is possible to underline an extensive application of those obligations, expressly seen as applicable since October 2016. This is interesting as regards the counting of the days of rent, which was to be realised for the year 2016, and should lead to the suspension of the user account if the 120 days were exceeded. One of the contributions of this judgment is therefore the temporal application of the law, and invites to consider the obligations to be applied for the period from January to October 2016 in the same way as for October to December 2016. Moreover, despite the lack of details concerning the penalties for these obligations, the court also indicates the possibility of sanctioning them on the basis of civil liability, applying a classic rule of French law which allows, in the absence of specific text, the sanction of any legal obligation on the basis of this civil liability.

Creation of an obligation not provided for by the law: the obligation to verify that the user who offers accommodation on the platform does not do so in contradiction with his own rental contract. In addition to the legal obligations, the judgment could also apply an obligation not provided for by the 2016 law, but sometimes encountered in case law: that of verifying the contract binding the debtor. Here, it is necessary to return to the structure of the contractual relationships to explain how the owner of a house proposed on Air BnB by his tenant can act against the platform. The platform is third party to this lease, and is in contractile relationship only with the tenant. The Tribunal admits the action of the owner against the platform on the basis of civil liability, because the platforms allowed the breach of contractual obligations of the tenant. That is for sure interesting for all the short-term rental platforms, or even for all platforms, yet the judgment is silent on the basis that allows it to achieve this solution.

The user of Air BnB is in this case the tenant of his dwelling and not the owner. The lease contract prohibits subletting (law n°89-462, 07/06/1989, art. 8) which can only be possible with the express permission of the owner. The platform is not party to the lease but must, according to article 1200 of the civil Code, respect this contract and not compromise the proper execution. This principle of opposability of the contract to third parties gives rise in general case to any obligation for them. Sometimes, however, the case law has admitted the existence of a verification obligation to the third party. This obligation exists in specific situations, and most often concerns non-competition clauses. In that domain, is responsible for negligence the company which does not check the non-competition clause binding one of its employees with a former competing employer (Cour de cassation, Chambre commerciale, 7/02/1995, n°93-14.569; 11/07/2000, n°95-21.888). Undoubtedly, one of the contribution of the judgment is the extension of this solution in lease contracts, concerning the subletting: it tends to impose on the platform an obligation of verification concerning the contract under which its user holds the dwelling, and in the case of a tenant, the obligation of verification extends to the authorisation of the lessor, only possibility to can sublease the housing. Such an obligation does not seem to have already been imposed by case-law in an equivalent situation. It could also make any appeal against the decision very interesting. The breach of this obligation allows in this case the owner to act against the platform, while there is no contractual relationships between them due to the fact that the actions of the platform which admitted an advertisement on its website and was paid for rentals carried out infringe the owner’s rights. The consequence will be very concrete and will require the platforms to request a copy of the authorisation of the lessor to practice subletting in a rented housing, and thus to have questioned their members on their quality of tenant or owner of the housing concerned. In this case, the court considers that this has allowed the tenant to violate its contractual obligations, and will condemn the platform to return the fruits it has collected on the apartment, since these fruits must, according to the law about property, return to the owner.

Inversion of the burden of proof of the good information of the users of a platform. Another interesting aspect of this judgment is the reversal of the burden of proof of the information obligation of the platform (Tourism Code, art. L. 324-2-1, I). This text provides that the platform must inform its users who provide housing of declaration or prior authorisation obligation. But, it does not provide that the platform must prove the proper performance of this obligation. The reversal of the burden of proof is common in consumer law, where the professional must be able to prove that he has provided the legal information to the consumer. However, the dispute did not concern a consumer and such an obligation is not expressly provided for by the Tourism Code. In the absence of any provision, the general rule should have applied: the person who allege a fact must prove it in justice (Civil Procedure Code, art. 9). This text is even quoted in the decision. The Tribunal, finding that the user claimed not to have received the information in fact specifies that the platform has failed to fulfil its obligation because of the fact that it cannot justify having correctly respected. The solution may surprise, and even if this obligation of information dates from before the Digital Republic law, and was therefore applicable when registering the user on the platform in early 2016, will encourage the platform to keep track of the transmission of information to each user.

As a result of the application of the obligation to the platform: the impossibility for it to consider itself as simple intermediary for connecting people. Another interesting aspect of this judgement, which comes as one of the first done one the basis of the Digital Republic law for an online platform is the rejection of a limitation of the role of the platform to a simple intermediation. In its claims, the platforms insists on this point which must, according to der, dispense with any control over the ads. Although it might have been interesting, the Tribunal does not describe the role of the platform, but not seems to limit it to simply connecting short-term tenants with owners of dwellings, since it states that the platform has obligations that apply both when placing an ad online, but also over rentals. The argument of minimising its liability is not admitted by the tribunal, which reminds it of its legal obligations. The platform must therefore have an active role and ensure compliance with the rules, even if their non-compliance is not yet penalised.

Conclusion: extensive interpretation of the platform’s obligations by the Tribunal. The judgment applies the requirements of the law of 2016, and imposes their compliance as soon as the law is promulgated, requesting a booking of rentals for the year 2016, despite the fact that the law was passed in October. In the same way, this judgment passed to impose on platform an obligation of verification of the authorisation of subletting of its members, when they are tenant of their houses, under penalty of having refund the commission perceived to the owner. Finally, the judgment reverses the burden of proof of the obligation of information provided by the Tourism Code, and asks the platform to prove that this obligation is respected. On these three points, the judgment could have made extensions to the legal rules concerning online platforms. Therefore, the analysis of possible appeal against this decision will appear interesting.

City4coEN – Steering Committee meeting

The Collaborative Cities for Collaborative Entrepreneurs (City4coEN) project held its Steering Committee meeting on Tuesday, 16 January.

In the first part of the afternoon, project promoter Tom Dedeurwaerdere introduced the project, outlined the team’s view of the collaborative economy and the work conducted to date.


Researchers Elisabetta Severi and Louise Lambert respectively presented the mapping of collaborative initiatives in the four sectors of interest (mobility, food, housing and object-sharing) in Brussels and their organisational and economic models, based on the typology developed by Nyssens & Defourny (2017).



The policy brief that provides further background on this theoretical framework, previously presented at the stakeholder workshop on 4 October 2017 can be dowloaded here


Karen Brabant presented two key terms that are crucial for understanding sharing practices and the potential for the collaborative economy to achieve achieve greater sustainability: agency and sociability.



For further reading on these concepts and examples in the Brussels-based collaborative economy, the relevant policy brief can be accessed here


Anne-Grace Kleczewski discussed the legal liabilities of collaborative providers and the challenges presented by the current legal vacuum in this respect. 




The second part of the meeting addressed policy measures that aim to support the collaborative economy. After a brief overview of results collected through interviews with representatives of public administrations, the participants of the Steering Committee meeting contributed, in true collaborative fashion, to completing the list of measures (in Belgium or inspired from abroad). 


City4coEN is research project financed by INNOVIRIS and led by UCLouvain, USaint-Louis Bruxelles, KU Leuven and Odisee. Other relevant documents relating to the project are a preliminary report on the multi-criteria assessment: Report #1 Preliminary Assessment

Supporting new policies and initiatives through data sharing

On 4th October 2017, the interdisciplinary research group on the sharing economy at the UCL organised a workshop with stakeholders (platforms, public authorities) in order to present the first results of the City4CoEn project. At the same time, the project leaders showed to the participants the next phase of the research, involving the public management of data. 

You can find the slides of the presentation over data sharing policies here. Please let us know what you think of the research hypothesis. Do you have any idea to enrich them?