France is a country with a very proud socialist democratic tradition; a country where wealth generation has not been a problem for a long time and where equitable wealth distribution has been a given, no matter what party is in power.
In recent decades, that image has taken a battering and France has, like most other countries in Europe, succumbed to the extremes of wealth that seem to have accompanied the digital revolution.
The chic town of Saint-Tropez in the Var region along the French Riviera has long been as perfect an example as any of a place overrun with runaway wealth and the local authorities are now taking a socialist step forward on the issue. The issue isn’t just one of rich-vs-poor, however and once again, it’s a case of local authorities taking back control of a town where Air BnB has had a skewed and negative impact on the local housing stock. After Nice taking measures some years ago to effectively end short-term lets in the city centre, it was time for Saint-Tropez to bring back some measure of normality to its local housing market
“One tends to think of Saint-Tropez as a tourist destination,” says Saint-Trop mayor Sylvie Siri, “but as mayor of this town, I don’t want it to be a ‘destination’. Losing our families is quite simply unacceptable, but we are being invaded by AirBnB platforms.”
Over the last 15 years, Saint-Tropez has lost an alarming 30% of its population, 2.2% of which was lost in the years from 2013 to 2019. The Mediterranean municipality is now going to increase by 60% the ‘taxe d’habitation’ (residency tax) on second homes to 60%, with the objective of raising over €3,000,000 to go towards the construction of around 100 homes for the local Tropéziens over the next 5 years. Some 72% of all houses in Saint-Tropez are listed as second homes, with a median price per square metre of €16,309, pushing locals out of the housing market.
“Air BnB is a perfect solution for many,” says Mme Siri. “It’s lovely, it’s magnificent, but you cannot find a home with a yearly lease anymore… The owners of second homes – Tropéziens the same as us – will understand our decision. I’m sure of it because it is by working together that we will succeed in preserving our town.”
And the town council won’t stop there. They also promise to use their droit de préemption (pre-emptive right) more often in the sales of properties, focusing particularly on the T2 and T3 sized apartments that can accommodate families. This means that people selling their homes may not have the final say on whom they want to sell it to and the Mairie de Saint-Tropez can intervene and force them to sell to a local family instead.
Saint-Tropez isn’t the only town in France to increase local property taxes on secondary residences. In 2022, some 255 communes have done so. Not every town is able to introduce such measures either. According to French law, in order to be able to increase the taxe d’habitation, you need to have a commune with more than 50,000 inhabitants and you need to be in a pressure zone (Zone tendue) where demand outstrips supply. As a point of interest, the Alpine region of Haute-Savoie is the national champion when it comes to second-home tax rates. In this region, 36 towns have increased their tax rates on secondary residences, of which 20 are now at the maximum 60% rate.