Online rental marketplace Airbnb has rejected a contention by a leading French hoteliers' association that it is a real estate agent and should be subjected to property rules in a case which could affect other online services.
Since its launch in San Francisco in 2008, Airbnb, which matches people wishing to rent out all or part of their homes to temporary guests via a website, has expanded rapidly.
The company has, however, clashed with hoteliers and authorities in cities from New York to Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris amid accusations of it worsening housing shortages and pushing out lower income residents.
France is Airbnb's second largest market after the United States, with over 400,000 listings, and Paris is its biggest single market, with 65,000 homes signed up to its site.
Following a complaint by AhTop association, which represents 30,000 hotels and syndicates, a French court has referred the case to the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ), Europe's highest.
Airbnb earlier this week put in its submission to the ECJ. The company could face an uphill battle if a ruling on Uber is anything to go by. In a landmark judgment in 2017, judges said Uber should be classified as a transport service and dismissed its argument that it was just a digital app acting as an intermedidary.
AhTop's assertion that the company should be subject to French real estate rules has no basis, an Airbnb spokeswoman said.
"Airbnb just provides the platform which allows hosts to connect directly to guests. Airbnb doesn't intervene in the transaction between the hosts and the guests," she said.
"The French real estate agent rules date from the 1970s and are for real estate agents which buy and sell homes, and not for platform businesses. Airbnb provides an information society service."
Not so, said AhTop representative Quentin Michelon.
"Airbnb not only creates relationships between two people, it creates a short-term rental market, helps fix the prices, centralizes payments, provides insurance services, publishes and advertises it," Michelon told Reuters.
"All these elements show that they are much more than just an intermediation service. The way they make money is quite clear, they provide a short-term rental service."