People renting out flats in Prague via Airbnb or similar services have been storing keys in small combination safes chained to municipal light poles. The city has started removing the key safes, as attaching anything to the poles is illegal.
“The negative effects of Airbnb accommodation are increasingly spreading to public lighting poles. But for us, we clearly say that key boxes have nothing to do with public lighting management. In case you find these boxes in public lighting, do not hesitate to report them to our THMP dispatching center on the toll-free line 800 40 40 60,” city firm Technologie hlavního města Prahy, which maintains light poles, said on Facebook.
THMP is only concerned with the key boxes on light poles, and not ones chained in other locations such as building drain pipes.
The managers of the flats can get their keys back, if they pay removal costs. “As the manager of public lighting manager owned by the City of Prague, THMP is obliged to proceed in accordance with legal regulations. … We will remove and store unauthorized key boxes, and the owners may contact our company for the return the key boxes after reimbursement of the costs incurred by our company,” THMP added.
THMP does not notify the box owners, as the key boxes do not have any contact information.
Tomáš Novotný, Vice Chairman of the Board of THMP, said the issue was relatively recent. “Together with the disposal of other forms of illegal use of public lighting poles, especially illegal advertising, the removal of key boxes has become another part of our maintenance. Despite the fact that this phenomenon only began to spread in the summer months, we have handled dozens boxes,” he said, according to press reports.
People commenting on Facebook had little sympathy for the Airbnb operators, with some saying if they are too lazy to hand over the keys in person they should not be in business.
One person pointed out that it some Airbnb operators might not even be in Prague, and this will be a particular problem for them. “The client arrives and the keys are not there. What if the owner is abroad or out of town? The client will stay elsewhere, the owner has to return the money, and will be marked as problematic. Other people will not stay there,” the person said.
Services such as Airbnb have become an issue, as it has been driving a lack of affordable flats, especially in the city center. In Prague 1 alone there are up to 3,500 flats used for Airbnb.
Neighbors in residential buildings complain of the noise, garbage, excess water use and other issues. Many buildings split the water fees evenly among all the residents, while Airbnb flats are often occupied by more people than average, all showering and doing laundry.
Security is also an issue as tourists are wandering the halls of residential buildings, often confused over which apartment is theirs.
The city has been trying to crack down on Airbnb operators who do not pay taxes on the income or fees for tourists, which hotels and other accommodation providers pay.
Airbnb was first introduced in the Czech Republic in 2009. Expert analyses show that Airbnb’s sales volume in Prague has already reached the sales volume of traditional accommodation facilities, according to CzechTourism.
Apart from Airbnb, there are also other services available on the market such as Flipkey, HomeAway, House Trip, Vacation Rentals or Vrbo.
The key box issue is separate from the love locks that have been all over fences in the touristy area. Those are also removed to get rid off visual pollution.