Helen Martin: Stop the Airbnb investors intent on milking us dry

MOVES to restrict or ban Airbnb in Edinburgh are gaining increased support from locals, ­especially those who share stairwells with holiday lets, writes Helen Martin.

Thursday, 22nd August 2019, 4:56 pm
Updated Thursday, 22nd August 2019, 5:56 pm
The proliferation of Airbnb short-term lets cuts the number of homes available for local people and contribtes to rising property values

But the issue affects all of us. It’s one dreadful part of the tourist sector because full council tax isn’t usually paid by such short term lets… very ­different from the sweet, original Airbnb idea that a resident could offer a room, their home flat for a couple of weekends a year, or the fortnight they were taking on holiday.

Evening News reporter Conor Matchett, carried out a brilliant investigation (published last week) where he discovered large foreign and domestic investment firms and multi-millionaires are involved. They are not building new self-catering, serviced apartment blocks, but buying traditional homes.

A short-term holiday let charges roughly four times as much as a long-term rental. A £700 per month rental becomes a £700 a week STL. So they are curbing council tax and making a lot of dosh, plus reducing the number of homes available for local people and contributing to rising property values here in Edinburgh.

I’ve admitted several times in this column that I am a landlord. We don’t deal with short-term lets. We work with long-term tenants, those who can’t afford, or don’t want to buy a home, but need to rent one.

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We have two flats, each of which is deep cleaned, smartened or refurbed when tenants leave after a few years, to make it appealing to new tenants. ­Anything that needs repair or replacement is dealt with immediately. Tenants have to pay council tax, and so do we when the flats are empty. We have to fully comply with landlord regulations, register with the council, pay tax on the income, pay letting agents and maintenance teams, take out landlord insurance etc and yes, we make money from that little business. There are some long-term landlords who have a big ­business, ­dozens of flats. They might be less “refurbing” than we are but they have to legally comply the same way.

There has occasionally been expressed dislike of landlords, sometimes justifiable if owners have failed their tenants, and sometimes just distaste of folk who own rental properties. But how would people who live in the city like it if there were no flats to let and become their home, with ­appliances, furniture, décor and maintenance provided?

I defended Airbnb when it started, a letting system where anyone short of cash could provide a room for a week, or make a little money once a year when they went abroad for a fortnight. It was one way of local folk in Edinburgh getting at least a few bob out of tourism.

Now that it’s evolved into a boom for overseas investors and multi-millionaires, many of whom keep their incomes in tax-free havens, we have to stop these people milking Edinburgh.

Personally, I think local landlords should let to local people too, but at least with STLs they are Edinburgh folk who are benefiting – and paying tax. It’s thanks to Conor Matchett and the Evening News that the council, and those involved in and pushing the tourist industry, are now aware of how this city is being ripped off. And why we need urgent restriction or a ban on such foreign exploitation.

Riddle of how to quit EU throws up more mystery

BREXIT mysteries continue. Scotland’s Chief Constable has warned that the force’s deficit means that the number of police officers may have to be cut from 17,259 to under 16,500, but at the same time he said that estimate excluded “unforeseen demands of the policing consequences of Brexit”.

These consequences are unlikely to be short-lived and probably even more complex if the UK bans another independence referendum, and Scotland goes ahead with it.

Neither he nor the government can even guess remotely what budget he will need.

Another mystery. If Westminster really wants the Union, why isn’t there even a tiny bit of post-Brexit compromise, such as allowing European students to spend four years in the UK to complete their degree (as needed in Scotland), rather than limiting it to three years which suits short English degree studies and chokes off Scottish universities?

Are they attempting to scare us into staying in the UK, or trying to force us out?

Truth the first casualty in the fog of Brexit war

THE truth about Brexit is becoming impossible for anyone who isn’t 100 per cent convinced about Remain or Leave. The same for the prospect of independence.

Some newspapers and broadcasters believed Angela Merkel was happy to accommodate Boris Johnson’s plans to avoid the backstop. Others said she was sarcastically polite and knew he couldn’t possibly invent an alternative in 30 days.

The Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) report was interpreted in two completely different ways because several crucial factors were omitted.

I remember a long time ago in journalism (regarding news, not columnists) we were taught and encouraged to cover both sides of a conflict, something that now doesn’t happen in most national papers and TV stations who work under one flag or the other.

Many are becoming PR agencies or promoters rather than objective reporters.

Power couple lightweights

A US actress pal of Meghan says she and Harry need private jets, not commercial flights, because they are a “powerful couple” at risk of kidnap or assassination.

Americans clearly don’t understand they are relatively lowly royals – and powerless.