It’s a long-held tradition for Edinburgh residents to rent out their homes at festival time. It eases the pressure on accommodation and gives locals an excuse to escape the madding crowds for a couple of weeks.
This hasn’t been without issue – party flats making life hell for neighbours is not a new thing – but guests and locals generally have rubbed along well enough. Any noise situation is more tolerable when you is know it is temporary and your neighbour will soon be back so you can bend their ears about it.
The symbiosis between the accommodation needs of residents and visitors has got somewhat out of kilter in recent years, however. The soaring success of holiday rental platform Airbnb and its ilk has made it almost too easy to rent out a residential property throughout the year, leading to commercial operations being run as well as occasional room rents.
What was once a fairly benign means to put a few quid in your pocket has morphed into something far more problematic, exacerbating income inequalities and hollowing out the heart of communities in big cities around the world.
There are now more than 9000 Edinburgh properties advertised on the site, with 21 per cent of them for more than three months every year. Either a lot of people have incredibly generous holiday allowances, or these are businesses bypassing the pesky regulations and rates which would apply for a regular bed and breakfast. There is often no direct contact between guest and property owner, and many seem to care not a jot about the neighbours who are left struggling to cope with endless streams of partying strangers in their tenement blocks – places which were built for family homes, not holiday homes.
The council is doing its best to cope with the fallout from this trend, and has set up a dedicated team for short-term let complaints – but with such speedy turnovers and few regulations to fall back on, they will always be chasing their tail until they have the power to put greater restrictions in place.
The phenomenal rise in Airbnb not only erodes community cohesion, it is hurting the city’s housing supply. Many property owners will choose lucrative short-term lets over long-term tenants at affordable rents. This makes fewer flats available in the private-rented sector, puts more pressure on the system and no doubt adds to the soaring rents that we are seeing in the city.
A peaceful, safe, secure home is a person’s right – this should be a sanctuary from the city crowds, not part of the circus. Visitors will always be welcome and tourism remains the lifeblood of the economy, but we can’t allow the rise in short-term lets to continue completely unfettered or it will drive people from their homes and drain the life from our city centre. I know the council are working with the Scottish Government to find the right solutions, including legislative ones, to tackle this problem and I support them all the way.
Deidre Brock is the SNP MP for Edinburgh North and Leith