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Scottish government to clamp down on short-term lets by next summer

UK: Airbnb-style short-term lets are set for more regulation over the next 12 months, as the Scottish government prepares to implement a new licensing regime by next summer.

Ahead of next year’s Scottish Parliament election in May, MSPs previously announced plans to introduce restrictions on short-term lets but these were put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, housing minister Kevin Stewart has now intervened to hand councils additional powers to set up “short-term let control areas” to control the concentration of rentals in specific areas.

The issue of housing supply in Edinburgh has already received much coverage, at a time when there has been a sharp rise in properties listing on short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb in the city. One study by Homes First suggested that only one in 477 Airbnb listings had the required planning permission to operate on a rental basis, while The Edinburgh Evening News estimated there were around 7,000 Airbnbs operating in Scotland’s capital.

As Scotland’s hospitality industry reopened on 15 July, campaign groups, including and local residents called for short-term lets to remain closed on the grounds of the virus still being a perceived threat to public health. At the time, Stewart dismissed the claims due to there being “no grounds” for delaying the reopening of self-catering accommodation with shared facilities.

In January, grassroots campaign group PLACEEdinburgh appealed to Airbnb in an open letter to “acknowledge the harm” the platform was doing to the city in limiting housing stock for residents. It furthermore accused the company of facilitating activity which “appears to be breaking the law”.

The establishment of a licensing regime could prohibit Airbnb-style rental operations in tenement flats with shared stairs. According to Scottish law, a tenement is defined as being “two or more related but separate flats divided from each other horizontally”.

However, in a letter to Holyrood’s Local Government Committee last week, Stewart confirmed the resumption of the work to regulate short-term lets in Edinburgh, attributing the delay to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He wrote: “We aim to lay the regulations giving local authorities powers to license short-term lets and introduce control areas in December so they can be in force by spring 2021. As part of preparation to do this, we will be engaging stakeholders on our detailed proposals in autumn.

“The delay caused by Covid-19 necessitates this will be a shorter period of engagement than originally planned but we will make sure the process is effective in refining our proposals and finalising the statutory instruments,” he added.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh City Council housing convener Kate Campbell said: “We’ve identified that licensing is the best route for us to be able to properly control short-term lets and prevent the negative impacts that they have had on our city and our residents.

“We’ll continue to take action through planning, addressing anti-social behaviour and, frankly, any route open to us, but we know the game changer for Edinburgh will be a licensing regime. So we’re delighted this work is progressing at the Scottish Parliament and we will get the powers we need to protect homes and communities,” she added.

Last December, Airbnb partnered with home security technology firm Minut to begin a three-month noise detection trial in Edinburgh, to reassure neighbours that visitors staying in short-term rental accommodation locally would not be disrupting them during the Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations. The former also launched a dedicated ‘Good Guest Guide’ for rental guests who were visiting and staying in the Scottish capital.