Edinburgh Airbnb host claims crackdown on short-term lets in tenements 'deeply unfair'

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The mum-of-two is ‘desperate’ and fears family will have to give up tenement flat property.

An Airbnb host has hit out at the council over its crackdown on short-term lets which she said is ‘deeply unfair’ to families renting out properties in shared tenement buildings.

It comes amid reports short-term lets are drying up in the face of strict new rules brought in by the council. Cat MacDonald and her husband David rent out a three-bedroom flat on the High Street which used to be their family home. The 47-year-old says losing income from the flat would be a ‘massive blow’ to her family.

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Edinburgh council is bringing in a licensing scheme to cut the number of properties in the city that are used as short-term holiday lets, in a bid to tackle the city's affordable housing crisis and concerns about anti-social behaviour. Self catering properties, bed and breakfasts and other short term letting accommodation have until October 1 to apply for a licence to operate or stop trading.

Cat MacDonald fears Old Town flat won't get a licence for a secondary let under new regulationsCat MacDonald fears Old Town flat won't get a licence for a secondary let under new regulations
Cat MacDonald fears Old Town flat won't get a licence for a secondary let under new regulations

Mum-of-two Mrs MacDonald fears they won’t get a licence because the Old Town property, which costs around £600 for two nights, is in a tenement building. The events manager said it’s ‘galling’ that they could lose the operation which they run like a ‘family business’, after they've had no any complaints from neighbours in the building, which is mainly occupied by student HMO flats.

After nearly ten years of letting the flat she is worried that losing it would be devastating for her disabled husband, who manages lets with help from Cat and their two daughters, 13 and 11.

‘We are desperate’

She said: “Our flat is the main source of work and income for my husband. Because of a genetic condition he had heart surgery three times before the age of 40. He has scoliosis of the spine. With help from us he manages to run it. We think he’d struggle to do a regular job because of his health. We believe the council is being deeply unfair in ruling out short term lets in stairs. They need to focus on building more suitable, affordable homes not taking away people’s livelihoods.

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The flat is on the High Street in Old TownThe flat is on the High Street in Old Town
The flat is on the High Street in Old Town

"As landlords we arrange prompt repairs, cleaning of shared facilities and all our health and safety checks are in order. We have never had a complaint, all our reviews are positive. I understand concerns about ‘mega operators’ and party flats. That’s not us. Most guests are older people visiting for culture and events or families with children who want access to their own kitchen space.

"I support regulation on health and safety and paying income tax, even tourist tax if that will benefit Edinburgh. But to refuse all tenement lets is crazy. Flats in the city centre aren’t suddenly going to be cheaper or become suitable as homes for families.

“This flat is definitely not suitable for affordable housing. As a family home it was very challenging. It’s an old building in the city centre, expensive council tax, heating and maintenance costs and can be very noisy especially during the festivals. But it works as a short-term let because folk don’t mind that for a few days at a time when they are just visiting.”

The flat is situated opposite the former city chambers which is now home to 75 luxury apartments costing £3,000 a week, after the council granted permission for the redevelopment of the historic building. Mrs MacDonald said it 'beggars belief’ that the council is pressing ahead with clampdown which she says is ‘hammering’ smaller hosts like them who only run one short-term let property.

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She added: "The fact that the old council city chambers is now a development of dozens of short-term let apartments just beggars belief. It's galling. Why have they not allocated that as affordable housing if they think individual self-catering properties should be used as homes? Many aparthotels are granted permission across Edinburgh, while smaller businesses are being hammered and many put out of business. We are desperate. I just have to hope the council will see reason. Most folk who have secondary lets are people like us, who just have maybe one property.”

New rules could see 80 per cent lets ‘axed’

It comes as it emerged that 80 per cent of self catering properties are expected to be axed following the strict new policies on short-term lets, as revealed in a tourist tax paper which is going to committee this week. Operators have accused the council of attempting to "shut down the sector".

According to figures from Edinburgh council it has approved 111 applications up to the end of July, while a further 119 applications were being considered. There’s an estimated 4,000 properties in the city listed on Airbnb alone.

For those renting out a whole property as secondary let, like Mrs MacDonald, 18 applications were made but none were granted. Five applied to rent second properties on a temporary basis, such as during holidays, of which 4 were granted.

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Provisions that would have made it more difficult for entire homes to be used as holiday lets have been scrapped following the court ruling in June, after parts of the council’s short-term lets policy were ruled to be unlawful in a judicial review.

But the Association of Scottish Self Caterers, which has branded the rules to a "de-facto ban on short-term lets in Edinburgh", is now pursuing a second judicial review focusing on retrospective element of planning. Properties that have been used for holiday letting for more than 10 years are required to obtain planning permission or a certificate of lawfulness.

Neil Ross, convener of regulatory committee, said: "We have changed our policy to reflect the decisions reached by the court, which took effect from 13 July, and the date for applying for a licence is 1 October. Existing hosts and operators have until that date to submit an application for a licence.”

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