Edinburgh [Unsplash]

Short-term let licensing order comes into effect in Scotland

Scotland: A new licensing scheme for short-term let hosts has come into effect in Scotland after multiple rounds of public consultation on how best to regulate the sector.

Scotland’s Short-Term Lets Licensing Order officially opened on Saturday and has been set up to enforce consistent safety standards across the country’s tourism and hospitality industries, according to the Scottish Government.

After concerns were raised by residents about the supposed impact of short-term lets on local communities, councils will now have the authority and flexibility to develop licensing schemes that meet “local needs” and establish short-term let control areas.

As a result, short-term let hosts operating before 1 October will have until 1 April 2023 to apply for a licence, while new hosts will not be able to accept bookings and welcome guests until they obtain their licence. Hosts renting out their property without a licence or not meeting a set of mandatory nationwide conditions could be liable for fines of up to £2,500.

To promote the launch of the licensing scheme, the Scottish Government has also launched a targeted digital marketing campaign across Scotland, making hosts aware of the new legislation.

A short-term let is described as a “property or part of a property that is rented out for a short period of time”, such as for a holiday or business trip, including whole properties or rooms within a host’s home. It can refer to anything from self-catered accommodation, B&Bs, guest houses, chalets, stationary homes, boathouses, and more that are detailed on the VisitScotland website.

Licence fees vary depending on the local authority, size of property and the type of property being rented. Mandatory licence conditions can be found in Schedule Three of the Licensing Order.

Housing Secretary Shona Robison said: “Our new licensing scheme will support responsible operators and give guests the confidence that their short-term let – be it a flat in Edinburgh, a property for a business trip to the Borders, or a cottage in the Highlands – meets the same set of safety standards.

“These new conditions include measures such as displaying an energy performance rating on listings, or securing valid buildings and public liability insurance. We know the vast majority of short-term lets businesses are already following these safety standards as a matter of best practice, and some are already required by existing legislation.

“We know short-term lets make a positive contribution to Scotland’s tourism industry and local economies, and these measures will allow them to continue doing just that while ensuring this is balanced with the needs of local residents and communities.

“The deadline for applications from existing hosts is 1 April, and I would urge all hosts and operators to contact your local authority as early as possible to learn how to apply,” she added.

VisitScotland CEO Malcolm Roughead said: “The small accommodation sector is a key contributor to the economy and our high-quality and varied offering is one of the things that makes Scotland such a special destination. Through an Industry Advisory Group, we’ve been working closely with representatives from across the sector ahead of introduction of the licensing schemes.

“We’ll continue to give both new and established businesses the right advice to help them through the process of applying for a short-term let licence,” he added.

The Scottish Government said that it had committed to working with local authorities, as well as companies and organisations such as Airbnb, and the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers [ASSC] to review levels of short-term let activity in hotspot areas of Scotland next summer. It added that it would monitor the impact of those measures on the wider tourism sector and assess whether further measures are necessary in due course.

MSPs backed plans to introduce a licensing scheme for short-term lets in Scotland in January, while the Scottish Government then approved proposals to introduce a first-of-its-kind short-term lets control zone in Edinburgh in August. The Scottish capital could yet become the first city in the UK to introduce a tourist tax, under new plans being drawn up by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Despite the Scottish Government’s pledge to work with representatives from the short-term let industry, the ASSC called Edinburgh Council’s plans to introduce the short-term lets control area [and potential tourist tax] a “hammer blow” for the tourism industry in the capital city.

ASSC chief executive Fiona Campbell said: “We are extremely disappointed that business and tourism stakeholder group warnings have once again been overlooked, jeopardising the £70 million economic boost self-catering provides to Edinburgh, as well as the hundreds of jobs and livelihoods this supports.

“What has been agreed amounts to nothing less than a de-facto ban on secondary letting and we note the Council’s recognition that aspects of their policy carry significant legal risk. This is despite the fact that self-catering properties have been a long-standing presence in the capital for decades and should not therefore be used as a convenient scapegoat for policy failures elsewhere.

“There are also wider implications for Edinburgh, including for the future viability of the Festivals. We are presuming that the rebuttable presumption against the grant of a licence in stairwells, means that no home in a stairwell will be granted a temporary exemption either, in which case the Edinburgh Festival 2023 is in considerable trouble indeed,” she added.

Earlier this year, tourism body Scottish Land and Estates said that it had been left “extremely disappointed” by the regulations and warned of the dangers of a “one-size-fits-all approach”.

More information on the Scottish Government’s announcement can be read at this link.

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