Reykjavík to Address Short-Term Rental Market Disruption

iceland refugees

The number of apartments available for short-term rental in Reykjavík has risen sharply in recent years, paralleling the increased flow of foreign tourists into the country. Many such apartments are owned and operated by companies rather than individuals. Due to a regulatory change from 2018, companies do not have to register such units as commercial properties, allowing them to evade higher property taxes and making them harder for municipalities to track. RÚV reported first.

Short-term rentals occupy entire buildings

Kristrún Frostadóttir, chairperson of the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin), voiced her concerns about the impact of short-term rentals during a question period in Parliament last week. She pointed out that many apartment buildings that had been zoned as residential were largely, or entirely, occupied by short-term rentals. This has a negative impact on the real estate market, according to Kristrún. The MP also pointed out the difficulties municipalities face due to these apartments not being registered as commercial properties.

As noted by RÚV, the regulation was altered during Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir’s tenure as Minister of Tourism. Speaking before Parliament yesterday, Þórdís stated that she had considered updating the regulation but stressed the need for municipal responsibility.

“Given the recent media reports, it’s apparent that the situation is not ideal. I urge the honourable member of Parliament to consult with her peers at Reykjavík City Council about managing Airbnb activities in the capital,” Þórdís stated.

Reykjavík seeks regulatory amendment

Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson described the 2018 regulatory change as problematic. He stated that it made it more difficult to track short-term rentals and enforced regulations, “especially our ban on year-round short-term rentals in residential areas. We advocate for reverting this legislation and maintain that local authorities should oversee this sector, currently managed by the district commissioner,” Dagur told RÚV.

Dagur also mentioned his intention, on behalf of the city, to formally request Tourism Minister Lilja Alfreðsdóttir to amend the regulation. “Addressing such issues, where regulations lead to unintended consequences, is a crucial collaborative effort,” he added.

Electroshock Weapons to Be Employed by Middle of the Year

Dómsmálaráðherra Ríkisstjórn Alþingi Jón Gunarsson

The Minister of Justice hopes that the police will be able to put the first electroshock weapons to use this year, RÚV reports. The minister’s decision to grant this authority to the police should not come as a surprise.

Full implementation may take one or two years

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson affirmed that his decision to authorise the police to carry electroshock weapons will stand – despite the criticism. He hopes that the first weapons will be in use by the middle of the year.

An amendment to existing regulations is expected to take effect next week. Electroshock weapons will only be assigned to police officers who have received the necessary training, and such weapons may only be used if other, milder measures are not deemed sufficient.

“This will, of course, take some time. I expect that the implementation will take approximately one to two years. My hope is that the first officers will begin carrying these electroshock weapons in the middle of the year or so,” Jón observed.

PM Criticises Lack of Discussion in Parliament

Jón has been criticised for not giving Parliament sufficient opportunity to discuss the amendment. During a radio interview yesterday, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir remarked that it would have been more appropriate to discuss the matter more thoroughly in Parliament.

“She said that more of a discussion needed to take place, and I have submitted a memorandum to Parliament; the matter has received a certain amount of discussion at that level,” Jón added.

When asked if the matter had not been discussed thoroughly enough, Jón replied that it was not for him to judge.

“Ultimately, it’s the PM’s decision. This change to the regulation has been carefully prepared, and it has been repeatedly discussed, as I’ve told the media previously; it has not provoked any special reactions or given rise to any special discussion, these reactions that have been expressed,” Jón explained.

Jón plans on attending a meeting with the Judicial Affairs and Education Committee next week so as to answer the committee members’ questions. He says that the decision to introduce electroshock weapons was made with the safety of police officers in mind.

“I am prepared for any discussion about this and thoroughly present my reasoning behind the decision. A decision has been made based on the information I have and it stands,” Jón concluded.

COVID-19 in Iceland: One Metre Rule Takes Effect

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Less stringent COVID-19 regulations took effect today in Iceland. The 2-metre social distancing rule has been relaxed to 1 metre, and the maximum size of gatherings has risen from 100 to 200. Other changes include a rise in the maximum number of guests at swimming pools and gyms: both may now operate at 75% capacity, a rise from the previous 50%.

Physical contact is now permitted in sports activities, stage performances, and other cultural events. Audience members at these events must, however, maintain a 1-metre distance from each other. The latest closing time of bars, clubs, and restaurants (venues with a liquor licence) will continue to be 11.00pm.

The one-metre rule does not apply to individuals that have a close relationship.

These regulations will be in effect until September 27. Iceland currently has 76 active cases of COVID-19 and the number has been dropping steadily for several days.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Two Metres Reduced to One

COVID-19 Press conference Þórólfur Guðnason Alma Möller V'iðir Reynisson

Iceland will likely reduce its two-metre social distancing rule to one metre and double the national assembly limit to 200 people from September 10. Masks will still be required in situations where that distance cannot be maintained, for example in hair salons and massage parlours. The double testing and five-day quarantine required of arriving travellers will remain unchanged for the time being.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason announced the changes in a briefing in Reykjavík today. He will also propose further changes to COVID-19 regulations to the Minister of Health, who makes the final call on their implementation. The changes include allowing swimming pools and gyms to operate at 75% capacity and permitting theatre performances with up to 200 participants and one-metre distancing. The regulation requiring bars and clubs to close at 11.00pm will remain unchanged.

Active Cases at the Border Rising

Since August 19, all travellers entering Iceland have been required to undergo testing at the border, five days of quarantine, and a follow-up test. Þórólfur says the number of active cases detected at the border has been rising despite a drop in the number of travellers. This means the percentage of active cases among arriving travellers is rising significantly, which Þórólfur says reflects the spread of the virus abroad.

Of 100 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 at the border, 84 did so in their first test and 16 in the second. The proportion of those who received a false negative in their first test is higher than expected, according to Þórólfur, and therefore shows the importance of testing those arriving from abroad twice. Around 60% of those who have tested positive at the border are Icelandic residents, who are considered more likely to spread the virus locally than tourists. Around a third have been tourists.

Border Screening Re-evaluated Next Week

Iceland’s current border regulations concerning COVID-19 are valid until September 15. Þórólfur will decide next week whether changes to the measures will be made, but stated he does not expect to recommend any fundamental changes. The Chief Epidemiologist expressed his belief that it was more logical to loosen measures within the country before doing so at the borders.

A total of 220 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Iceland since June 15. A majority of recently diagnosed cases, or around 60%, were among people who were already in quarantine. Iceland currently has 96 active cases of COVID-19 and a domestic incidence rate of 17.7 infections per 100,000 inhabitants.

Earmarking Sheep May Become Optional in Iceland

iceland sheep breeding

The practice of marking sheep by cutting notches into their ears may soon become optional in Iceland, Bændablaðið reports. Earmarking sheep and goats is required by law in Iceland, though most Icelandic sheep are now also tagged with plastic or metal plates on their ears. The legislative change is proposed on the basis of animal welfare as well as the efficiency of more modern methods such as tagging.

An old tradition to mark ownership

The tradition of earmarking livestock is not unique to Iceland. It is practised across the Nordic region and the Shetland Islands, and most likely arrived in Iceland with the earliest settlers. Notching sheep ears with distinctive patterns was historically done to mark their ownership, an important practice wherever sheep are released in the summer to roam freely and mix with animals from other farms, as has been done in Iceland since the island’s settlement.

Today most Icelandic sheep are also marked with plastic or metal ear tags that are printed with the designated numbers of their farm, owner, and locality, as well as a symbol identifying their county and individual livestock number. A bill currently under review by the Icelandic Parliament proposes making this tagging system mandatory and making earmarking optional, as the “age-old method of safeguarding animal ownership is no longer needed.”

Photo: Vísindavefurinn. Earmarks used by Icelandic sheep farmers.

Unlikely that sheep farmers will stop earmarking

Unnsteinn Snorri Snorrason, CEO of the National Association of Sheep Farmers (Landssamtök sauðfjárbænda), says that the Association is not opposed to the change, though he doubts that farmers will stop using earmarks. Unlike tags, Unnsteinn says, earmarks allow farmers to identify sheep from a distance, though even newer methods such as microchipping could provide other advantages when it comes to identifying and herding sheep. “Earmarks are handy where sheep are kept on common land or where farmers have adjacent pastureland,” says Unnsteinn, though they are less important where sheep are kept on private land.

“The flaw with stopping earmarking and when ears are whole is that then anyone could cut off a tag and replace it with their own and claim the sheep. Farmers must therefore decide for themselves whether they want to keep marking and thus ensure their ownership or exclusively use tags. There are also farmers that don’t want to earmark their sheep based on animal welfare views.”

Dr. Ólafur R. Dýrmundsson, editor of the National Earmarks Register (Landsmarkaskrá) says the reasoning behind the proposed change is not well supported. “A secure labelling system for sheep in Iceland has now gained greater weight, with regard to the safety of both animal feed and food. This is partly because many sheep disease prevention lines have been scrapped or their maintenance has been neglected in recent years.”