Scotland: A report by The Scotsman has revealed thousands of Airbnb properties may be operating unlawfully in Edinburgh with the council struggling to enforce regulations to counter the expansion of short-term lets in the city.
According to the national newspaper, although 7,000+ properties in the city are listed on Airbnb (as opposed to spare rooms), 35 or fewer of those properties have so far applied for the necessary planning permission to be able to operate commercially.
As a result, the council is finding it difficult to take action over complaints of reported anti-social behaviour, given the low numbers of registered properties and the rise of the so-called ‘party flat’ phenomenon which has drawn much ire in cities with a high presence of short-term rentals.
At the same time, the time when owners of short-term lets require planning permission to operate an Airbnb is uncertain, however the city council has won every case it has brought to court on the issue so far this year.
Campaigners are now calling for the local authority to firmly address the issue, though the council argues it would take years to fully tackle the problem due to a lack of resources and backlog of cases. It also raises the question over whether a formal regulation system is needed in Edinburgh.
One Edinburgh landlord and letting agent told The Scotsman that safety regulations were not being adhered to by short-term let owners who are not obliged to register with the council and can easily bypass health and safety regulations.
Councillor Kate Campbell, Edinburgh council’s housing and economy convener, has now called on the government to allow councils to set up licensing requirements for Airbnb and rental properties.
Airbnb itself has backed pleas for more regulation across the industry, including proposing a 90 night cap on stays, with exceptions for peak tourist periods throughout the year.
Meanwhile, the council is said it is being hamstrung due to a backlog of cases and lack of resources, plus it dealt with as many enforcement complaints in the first six months of 2019 than it did in the entirety of 2018.
Campbell said: “We know there are too many short-term lets in Edinburgh. We see the impact all around us.
“Through the Short-Term Lets Working Group we looked at the challenges we are facing, what tools we have now and how best to use them, and crucially what tools we think we need to properly get to grips with the industry,” she added.
Following a consultation by the Scottish government on short-term lets, The Law Society of Scotland said short-term let hosts could be breaching insurance and mortgage conditions, while visitors’ safety at Airbnbs is also being called into question.
One investigation by The Times revealed that in a sample of 150 flats, more than one in ten did not report a smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector, and a further third only had a smoke alarm in their accommodation.
The Scotsman said that the growth of short-term lets in the Scottish capital could be due to landlords not wanting to pay for the work to bring their properties up to the regulated standard that would be set if they registered to operate as a commercial business.
Campbell called for appropriate licensing to be imposed in the city.
She said: “We believe that we need a licensing regime to control overall numbers, the concentration in a specific area, whether or not a property is suitable and to make sure that landlords are fit and proper. Our corporate response to the Scottish government was very strong and I feel confident that we will get the powers we need.”
In a statement, an Airbnb spokesperson told the newspaper: “This is false data that does not reflect how locals share their homes in Scotland. The truth is that hosts share their homes for less than four nights a month and almost half say that the additional income helps them afford their homes.
“We whole-heartedly support regulation and have backed calls for a tourist tax in Scotland, but the current rules are complex and confusing. We want to help hosts follow the rules, which is why we are working with the government on clear and simple rules that work for everyone.
“We want to be good partners to cities and have already worked together with more than 500 governments around the world,” it added.