Europe's highest court has said that Airbnb Ireland should be not be restricted by French law in providing accommodation services, in a legal opinion that could have significant consequences for how the so-called sharing economy is regulated.
The opinion was issued this morning by an Advocate General of the European Court of Justice. The full judgement is expected later in the year.
Essentially, the court has held that Airbnb Ireland is not a real estate company, and therefore should not be inhibited in its activities by a French law that governs the activities of real estate brokers.
A criminal case was taken by the French Public Prosecutor's Office against Airbnb for two alleged breaches of the law in March 2017.
The case was referred to a Paris court, while a civil case was taken by a French tourism association.
Airbnb argued that its commercial activities in matching property owners with those seeking accommodation did not amount to a real estate brokerage activity.
Therefore, applying the so-called Loi Houguet, which requires real estate agents to meet a series of professional standards, including having liability insurance, was not appropriate.
The company also argued that the French law restricted its rights to provide services under EU law.
The French Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris therefore referred the case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
Today, Advocate General Maciej Szupunar published an opinion that Airbnb Ireland should be regarded as providing an "information society service" under the terms of the E-Commerce directive.
The directive allows for companies to provide digital services across the EU without restriction.
According to a statement, the Advocate General believed Airbnb Ireland was providing a service that consisted in "connecting potential guests with hosts offering short-term accommodation, via an electronic portal, in a situation in which the provider of that service does not exercise control over the essential procedures for the provision of those services".
That therefore constituted "an information society service" under the terms of the directive.
The Advocate General found that the E-Commerce Directive precluded one member state from restricting the free movement of information society services from another member state.
An Airbnb spokesperson said: "We welcome the opinion of the Advocate General, which provides a clear overview of what rules apply to collaborative economy platforms like Airbnb and how these rules help create opportunities for consumers."
The company said it had worked with more than 500 authorities around the world on measures to help hosts share their homes, follow local rules and pay their fair share of tax.
It added: "As we move forward, we want to continue working with everyone to put locals at the heart of sustainable 21st century travel."
The Airbnb Ireland case has been seen by experts in conjunction with a recent case involving the ride-sharing platform Uber.
In December 2017, the ECJ ruled that Uber was not only providing "information society services" under the E-Commerce directive, but was in effect a transport service provider and therefore could be subject to restrictions imposed by other member states.
The full judgement will come later. In 80% of cases, the final ruling adheres to the opinion of the Advocate General.