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‘A family used to live here’: The Spanish sticker rebellion battling tourist lets

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Incensed after finding out his rental home of 10 years was about to become a tourist apartment, Dani Romero took to social media. What followed swiftly snowballed into a movement, as residents in Málaga began plastering stickers – reading “A family used to live here” or “Go home” – outside tourist lets across the southern Spanish city.

“I didn’t mean to arm a revolution,” said Romero. “I’m just looking for a house to live in.”

At the core of what one Spanish broadcaster called “the sticker rebellion” is not a rejection of tourism, said Romero. Instead, as city residents grapple with a record number of tourists, it’s a cri de coeur for a more balanced approach that could allow for a better coexistence between residents and tourists.

A set of stickers posted on Facebook on 23 February by Daniel Romero. Photograph: Daniel Romero/Facebook

It’s a debate playing out across Europe, as cities from Athens to Amsterdam wrestle with how best to tackle overtourism.

In Málaga, Romero did all he could to negotiate with his landlord, offering to pony up more rent for the three-bedroom flat he lived in on the outskirts of the city centre. His landlord’s refusal, however, cast Romero into a desperate search amid the slim pickings of a real estate market where tourist lets have for years outstripped the number of residents in the city centre.

“I’ve looked at houses that don’t have windows, another that wanted a €40,000 (£34,192) deposit,” he said. “On Friday, one asked me for a €200 deposit just to visit the apartment.”

Fuelled by frustration, he took to the social media page of the bar he owns, posting his own take on the blue AT – Apartamento Turístico or Tourist Apartment – signs that advertise tourist lets in the city. “ATtack against the citizens of the city,” he said, as he invited others to come up with their own rebrand of these short-term rentals.

Answers soon rolled in, all of them cleverly playing off the AT sign. “This used to be my home,” reads the translation of one response. Others were more blunt: “Go to your fucking home.”

The campaign soon took on a life of its own, as residents began printing out the responses and sticking them on to the AT signs across the city.

“To me it seems a very peaceful way of protesting,” said Romero. “There’s no organisation or political party behind this. It’s neighbours who are fed up because this is an issue that affects absolutely all of us.”

A recent survey of residents in Málaga found that access to housing ranked as their principal concern, with 60% of those polled describing rental prices as “very expensive”.

People enjoy views over Málaga city from a viewpoint towards Gibralfaro castle. Photograph: AndKa/Alamy

While about 80% of those surveyed described the impact of tourism as “very positive” or “positive,” the most recent data available showed that in 2021, the number of foreign nationals moving to the city rose by 2,600 while the population of Spanish nationals dropped by nearly 1,000.

As the number of tourist apartments swelled, the supply of rentals for locals shrank, pricing out groups such as retirees, some who had been forced to move into shared accommodation, and young people, said Romero. “I’m 48 years old, have a high income, money saved up and I can’t find a house. What’s the situation like for people who are 25 years old?”

Those lucky enough to own their home were not immune either, he said, as the influx of tourists had steadily replaced fruit shops and fishmongers with souvenir stands and luggage storage. “I don’t have anything against tourism. Tourists visit my bar and I’ve been a tourist,” said Romero. “But we have to regulate tourism – me and half the city can’t live like this.”

The city of Málaga, which recently rejected legislation that would have seen the municipal rental market classified as “under pressure” allowing officials to put in place rent caps in certain cases, did not reply to a request for comment.

Graffiti in Seville, Spain, in defence of housing for citizens. Photograph: Ken Welsh/Alamy

As news spreads of Málaga’s sticker rebellion, messages poured in for Romero from across the country. From San Sebastián to Valencia and Madrid and Barcelona, residents got in touch to express interest in printing out their own stickers.

Others had weighed in with opinions. “Some people have been really supportive. Others think this is all silly,” he said. “But at the end of the day, all I’m doing – I repeat – is protesting because I don’t have a home.”

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