Airbnb has launched a legal bid in the Netherlands to get a judge to ask the Dutch high court whether the company can charge fees to both holiday renters and people letting out their homes.
In March, Amsterdam resident Jacques Huppes won back €470 in service charges he had paid for renting property through the holiday rentals giant, after three local court judges found that Airbnb’s “double charging” – of both hosts and holidaymakers – broke Dutch law. Huppes had taken seven trips between 2016 and 2018, paying Airbnb a “guest service fee” for his bookings.
Although the ruling did not establish a legal precedent, 10 companies began collecting tens of thousands of consumer claims.
Now, Airbnb, which for technical reasons could not appeal against the March ruling, is suing five of the 10 claimant firms, asking a Rotterdam judge to appeal to the Dutch high court to set a legal precedent on service charge refunds, and saying “clarity is needed in the market”.
It has also served a summons on 20 individual consumers – including one woman who rented an Airbnb apartment and made a claim for €40.27 – sending them hundreds of pages of legal documents, and is asking the court to make a formal declaration that Airbnb does not owe the claimants a refund.
“It is power play,” said Max Darley, legal adviser to De Procedeerwinkel, which is submitting 10,000 claims worth around €3m. “Airbnb has very deep pockets and can pursue claims for years, and summoning individual customers doesn’t seem like the right model for the best relationship. They are trying to devalue consumer law.”
Huppes, who was served, is planning to represent himself, although Airbnb does not owe him any money because it has already refunded his fees. “These are the kind of paper bombs they are sending to their own customers, which is of course ridiculous,” he said, referring to a knee-high pile of documents. “The court of Amsterdam says that renters have the right to ask back the unduly paid service fee, and then Airbnb attacks the customers who follow the ruling of the court of Amsterdam.”
Nicolaas Huppes, his lawyer, who set up the organisation Twee Heren, has already submitted 50 cases in different courts around the Netherlands. “If they did what they should do according to how things work, they would just file 50 defences and the courts would decide what to do,” he said. “If you are an intermediary in a real estate property [transaction], you are not entitled to charge the seller and the renter. We have the same rule in the Dutch civil code for financial products and labour, to prevent conflicts of interest.”
Dutch lawyers suggest that the same double-charging rules could apply in other countries, and housing lawyers in England are watching the cases closely.
Airbnb argues in court papers that it is an “online marketplace” charging service fees for using its platform, and that Dutch rules on housing are not to make holiday accommodation more affordable. A spokesman said it was not “forcing” anybody to go to court or pay any money. “We attach great importance to the rights of both our hosts and guests and our aim is to seek clarity for all,” the firm said in a statement. “We are waiting for the Dutch high court to provide certainty for everyone across the Netherlands.”