The short term lets problem


Posted by in June's Magazine

Ben Macpherson MSP for Edinburgh North and Leith

Short-term letting, through platforms such as Airbnb, is increasingly causing concern in Leith, with the consequences becoming more and more evident. Though we of course want to welcome tourists to Edinburgh and into Leith, and recognise the very positive contribution that visitors make to our economy, I know from speaking to many local people that there is growing worry and anxiety about the damage that an overconcentration and excessive number of short-term let properties can cause. There’s nothing wrong with renting out a spare room or even an entire flat from time to time – but the growth that there’s been in whole properties being rented out on a regular basis on short-term lets is becoming increasingly problematic in Leith, for a number of reasons. 

A door on Upper Bow with 11 Airbnb key safes.
Chris Pettigrew/Reddit

Firstly, people are often concerned about regularly having strangers in a stair or street, who, while very welcome, are not invested in the community. This throws up particular challenges for Leith because so much of our housing is tenements, with common entranceways and buildings where people normally know their neighbours.

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Secondly, and importantly, the growth in short-term letting is unfairly driving up rents and house prices. We want Leith to be an affordable place to live for all the diverse people who make up our community, and the growth in short-term letting is distorting that. 

And thirdly, responsible landlords have to abide by regulations and charges that some who are short-term letting full-time may be unjustly evading. That’s not fair on landlords in the normal rental market.

These reasons, and other concerns too, have been expressed to me by many constituents, and have prompted me over the last years to press for action to regulate short-term letting. And that’s why I was delighted to hear the First Minister’s announcement at the SNP conference in Edinburgh in April that there will be a new public consultation to control the number of short-term lets and ensure that the owners of these properties contribute to the services they use. 

Such a regulatory set up would benefit responsible landlords, tenants, communities, first-time buyers and tourists alike

This online consultation runs until 19 July 2019 and can be found at: https://consult.gov.scot/housing-services-policy-unit/short-term-lets/consultation/subpage.2016-07-07.1474135251/ or by searching ‘Scot Gov short term lets consultation’ online. I would encourage all Leithers who have concerns about short-term letting to please respond to this consultation!

This consultation paper does not set out a full new framework to regulate short-term lets, as the Scottish Government wants to hear your views and complete its evidence gathering before doing that. However, the Scottish Government are proposing a national framework that provides a menu of discretionary powers. This way City of Edinburgh Council will be able to implement measures appropriate to our city, and to Leith in particular, to respond to our local conditions and concerns. 

Because our area is one of the most affected by short-term letting in Scotland, it’s important that we respond to this consultation in order to make sure that measures are introduced that help us control the number of short-term lets in our city.

In the immediate term, I was delighted to see a recent court ruling upheld to remove key boxes from a tenement in another part of Edinburgh. The landlord had appealed against the Council’s order to remove key-safe boxes from the front door of the tenement. The Council then issued an enforcement notice in January ordering the removal of the 11 key boxes attached to the common entrance. 

As much of Leith is counted as a conservation area, this ruling could have an impact on similar decisions here. Many of the key boxes in Leith may have been installed without planning permission.  

I think these cases are a sign that powers already exist to support residents, if they have issues with short-term lets in their stair. If a property is solely or mainly being used as a short-term let then it already requires planning consent, to convert from a residential to a commercial property. Under the existing powers, many enforcement actions have been taken, when a landlord has not applied for change of use for a property. 

I know from conversations with Council colleagues that they are following up breaches that are reported to them under the current planning system, and I think it is important that owners understand that these matters are being looked at very carefully.

However, the current system could be made more effective. That’s why I believe that further action is needed to regulate short-term letting. This will help us preserve our communities and make local housing more affordable. And so I welcome the First Minister’s announcement and encourage engagement in the consultation. My hope is that feedback on this consultation will lead to fair and reasonable regulation of short-term letting, which allows for occasional lets but limits the extent to which this can happen. Such a regulatory set up would benefit responsible landlords, tenants, communities, first-time buyers and tourists alike. So please make your voice heard and contribute to this important consultation for Leith.

Twitter: @BenMacpherson


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