Bayonne, Basque Country, France. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Regional Signal

Basque Country: Local initiatives and authorities battle tourism pressure on housing


Basque Country, France.

In a bid to preserve the right to housing for the local population, the platform ‘Se loger au Pays – Herrian bizi’ is launching a stern campaign against the surge of second homes in the Basque Country.

With over 20% of housing in the region classified as second homes, the platform deems it a significant threat to the housing equilibrium.

Peio Dufau, a platform member and elected official from Ciboure, voiced concern about the lack of legislative plans to address the housing crisis.

Drawing parallels with Switzerland, where second homes are limited to 20% of the housing stock in municipalities, Dufau emphasizes the urgency in the Basque Country. Some municipalities have already reached or exceeded 50% of second homes, leading to a population decline in places like Ciboure.

The platform’s call is clear: prospective buyers of second homes are urged to purchase properties that are already designated as such. Transforming primary residences into second homes or building new homes for tourists is deemed unacceptable.

“The population of the Basque Country will not tolerate primary residences being turned into second homes,” warns Dufau.

The platform has outlined a robust plan to enforce this recommendation.

Starting from January 1, 2024, any housing falling into the specified categories will be publicly denounced, considered a direct violation of the local population’s housing rights. Legal actions will be taken gradually against non-compliant owners, with the platform pledging to make their situation untenable.

Notably, the platform plans symbolic actions to raise awareness, such as the delivery of dozens of bread bags in front of identified second homes. Dufau rejects the notion that second homes sustain the economy, deeming it false.

Simultaneously, the Basque Country Community (CAPB) is gearing up to combat the effects of seasonal rentals.

A decree published on August 25 allows 11 Basque municipalities, with populations ranging from 800 to 7,000, to access compensatory measures combatting tourist furnished rentals.

This “anti-Airbnb” measure requires property owners who want to rent furnished tourist apartments to offer an equivalent property for year-round housing in the same municipality.

Municipalities including Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and Cambo-les-Bains now have the authority to implement this regulation, following the success of similar measures along the coast.

Xebax Christy, from the tenant defense association Alda, stresses the importance of extending compensatory measures even to smaller municipalities facing housing difficulties. Some mayors, however, like Christian Devèze in Cambo-les-Bains, are seeking exemptions based on specific economic activities such as thermal baths.

The Basque Country agglomeration community (CAPB) has commissioned its urban planning agency, AUDAP, to study the new decree and provide an opinion by the end of the year. A final decision on implementing the compensatory measure is expected in early 2024 after discussions with the mayors of the 11 concerned municipalities.

As the Basque Country grapples with housing challenges, these measures underscore the region’s commitment to preserving its unique character and ensuring housing accessibility for its residents.