Short-term lets licensing law U-turn will leave Edinburgh Council unable to address homelessness and poverty, says residents’ group

Edinburgh Council will be powerless to tackle homelessness, poverty and social isolation if overprovision powers are not granted in the short-term lets licensing scheme, it has been claimed.

PLACE, an organisation representing residents on the Scottish Government’s Short-Term Lets Stakeholder Working Group, has written to social justice, housing and local government secretary Shona Robison to highlight the consequences of the sudden U-turn she announced on the scheme last week.

The residents’ body insists Ms Robison’s reasoning for the removal of overprovision powers in licensing legislation shows a misunderstanding of the scope of the new short-term let control areas in planning legislation.

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PLACE says short-term let control areas are only effective when combined with specific amendments to a council’s Local Development Plan, which can only be achieved every five years. Only Edinburgh Council has this process in motion.

A short-term let operating in a flat in Edinburgh's Elsie Inglis Way, bought through an affordable housing scheme, was told to stop operating by the council in 2020. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

If over provision powers aren’t granted in licensing, PLACE states almost all councils will be unable to deny licenses to short-term lets for reasons of housing shortages for the foreseeable future.

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A PLACE spokesperson said: “In June, Airbnb released their white paper, which set out how they wished their ideal ‘regulation’ to look like across the UK.

“The changes proposed here by the Scottish Government seem to mirror these disappointingly closely: self-certification, no checks on overprovision and a weakening of the ability to enforce planning permission standards.

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“Corporate lobbying behind closed doors cannot be allowed to win over the needs of communities. We implore the Cabinet secretary to read our evidence and reconsider her position.”

PLACE wrote to Ms Robison to request the following additional changes:

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- Robust tools to address overprovision of short-term lets in licensing and planning legislation;

- Platform accountability - experience shows licensing is only effective if platforms can be fined for advertising short-term lets without a valid license number;

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- Robust checking of home sharing applications for fraud by commercial hosts;

- Mandatory planning permission for commercial licenses, especially in tenements;

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- Cancel temporary exemptions which incentivise the use of homes as short-term lets;

- A live short-term letting register with natural names for commercial hosts;

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- Guidance for lawful home-sharing and home-letting;

- Policy statements on overprovision which must consider the supply of accessible and affordable housing;

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- Removal of the ten-year rule which gives immunity to short-term lets which have been operating unlawfully for a decade;

- No more delays.

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Regulation of short-term lets is vital to balance the needs and concerns communities have raised with wider economic and tourism interests. Our proposals ensure that all short-term lets across Scotland adhere to a common set of safety standards.

“The powers given to local authorities to establish control areas are sufficient to implement overprovision policies, where they wish to do so.

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“We intend to lay licensing legislation at the Scottish Parliament in November. We are committed to getting this important legislation absolutely right, and monitoring its implementation.”

Councils have been given a grace period until October 2022 to set up a licensing scheme, with all short-term lets to be licensed by April 2024.

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