As the summer season creeps closer and closer, Ibiza residents’ Facebook, Twitter and telephones are abuzz with one common theme – just how damn difficult it is to find a home these days. To be clear, we’re not talking about buying a property, as there are plenty of amazing ones listed on the books of Ibiza’s agents. What we’re dealing with here is long-term residential rentals – something that used to be as simple as picking up a copy of the Diario de Ibiza and making a few phone calls, and is now akin to a hardcore Hunger Games style battle to the death.
In the ‘good old days’, you could pretty much guarantee that between October and December, you would be able to find a great year-round rental – whether you wanted a rustic finca, modern apartment, rooftop terrace or flash villa. It was this time of year that landlords lowered their prices and were happy to secure the commitment of a 12-month lease rather than worrying about leaving their property empty and then raising the prices for a six-month summer rental later. Then traditionally Easter was the time of year seasonal workers would make the pilgrimage to Ibiza in search of their summer abode – those homes that hadn’t been snapped up by the year round crew. When those seasonal workers left at the end of summer, the cycle would start again.
It was a funny old antiquated system, but it worked. There was never really any stress – you could pick and choose from a selection of properties fitting your brief, leave a month’s deposit that you’d always get back at the end of the agreement and more often than not, you’d have your next home sorted before the 30 days notice you’d given on the old one was up, or in the case of seasonal workers, you’d nail it in a weekend and spend the next couple of months looking forward to getting into your new home.
But then… the Ibiza rental market imploded (hello Airbnb, Owners Direct et al). People – be they owners, landlords or tenants – got greedy. With such a huge influx of tourists coming into the island over a very short-term period, many decided to rent their home to tourists for the months of July and August – at hugely inflated, dare I say, extortionate rates – while they packed up and headed to their parents’ basements, sofa surfed with friends or hotfooted it to another city like NY or London, earning a year’s worth of rent (or more) in just eight weeks.
Suddenly it became cool for groups of friends to chip in and share an apartment in Ibiza town, Marina Botafoch or Playa d’en Bossa, using it as a base rather than booking multiple hotel rooms. Magazines would recommend it as a great way to do Ibiza on a budget – as the advent of VIP culture was on the rise – and from a tourist’s perspective, I certainly understand the appeal. You save money, get to bunk with your mates, and there’s the fun element of having a party pad and being situated in the heart of the action, living like a local, cooking your own breakfasts and never accidentally running up your mini bar tab after a big night in the VIP.
But what tourists generally don’t realise, or stop to think about, is that the majority of properties operating this way are totally illegal (let me take a moment here to mention that I have full respect for fully licensed holiday rental properties and the agents who run them professionally). Who is liable for damage, theft or cancellations, when insurance isn’t on the cards? Not to mention the fact most Spanish leases strictly prohibit subletting and can result in you being thrown out by the disgruntled owner halfway through your holiday!
From a local’s perspective, it is this type of activity that has made it virtually IMPOSSIBLE for regular folk like me to find a decent home, at a price that reflects the quality of the property. It has driven the average cost of an apartment up by at least 50 percent (while the economy has slumped and no one has received a pay rise in years), often more. I speak from experience – it took me 14 months (not to mention three whopping months rent in advance) to lock down my own dream home – and dear lord, I viewed some ridiculously overpriced dumps in my price range during that time, most of which were not advertised with any official agencies, in the newspaper or via the old school ‘Alquiler’ sign dangling from the balcony.
You see, in addition to the problem of properties being ‘on hold’ for holiday rentals, a slew of ‘unofficial’ agents have sprung up like mushrooms after a rainstorm in the past few years. Characters who operate solely via Facbook or Whatsapp, and spend their days scouring the island for available properties, then shiftily arrange showings, acting as a middle man between renter and the actual landlord/owner, and charging crazy so-called ‘agency fees’ which you just know are going straight into their back pockets, but you feel obliged to pay because there’s no other way for you to obtain the place directly. And if you don’t want to cough up the agency fee, another desperate resident will, because there are so few available houses in ‘normal’ price brackets now, you’ve got to nab them while you can.
Talk about a nightmare! 2015 has been the hardest year of all. There has been press coverage on the topic, petitions have been circulating to regulate rental prices, and I’ve even heard of a police task force who were commissioned to trawl social media trying to uncover the underhanded culprits and tax them accordingly. Something’s got to give, and soon. Right now, many people who live and love our beautiful island, and work hard all year round to enjoy the lifestyle it offers, are feeling like the cost of living is destroying them. I know it’s a first world problem, but we’re living on a first class island and I believe we are being taken advantage of… Sure, there’s no place like home, but when someone else holds the power this way, they’ve got you over a barrel and suddenly home isn’t quite so sweet.
So dear holidaymakers, I beg you – if you’re going to rent an apartment for your Ibiza holiday, PLEASE make sure it is a fully licensed, legal property before you book. Dear property owners, I implore you – don’t opt for the fast money, but choose a tenant who’ll love and take care of your property as if it were their own home. And to all you ‘unofficial’ agents out there trying to make a quick buck at the expense of desperate residents – get a real job.