Edinburgh short term lets: Airbnb owners in Edinburgh warn of rise in abuse and threats
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People who run self-catering flats and the trade body told the Evening News that many are scared to apply for a licence under the new short-term lets licensing scheme, due to increasing hostility towards the sector. Under tough new rules due to come into force on October 1, operators are required to give their home address and phone number on a license application form, which can be viewed by the public.
But it’s claimed many are reluctant due to increasing reports of online attacks, stalking and threats including comments like ‘I know where you live’. Others had their home address shared on Twitter. Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the Association of Scotland’s Self Caterers, said she was assaulted back in 2018 and said ‘toxic’ attitudes towards the sector are to blame for the rise in abuse now.
She said: “I was physically assaulted for earning an honest living. It’s absolutely horrific. That was in 2018. I’m still being harassed. There’s this toxic attitude that’s been simmering for a while. It is undoubtedly being made worse by the new regulations. Loads of our members say they they won’t give their personal details on a license application because they live in fear of being attacked. We are now dealing with the safety of our members. Most are worried about becoming a target if they apply.”
Ms Campbell claims her home has been flooded, while other landlords have reported key boxes being glued up.
Ralph Averbuch, who has run self-catering units in the city since 2005, was one of a group of operators who took the council to court over the short-term lets regulations.
He said: “People have quite reasonably come to fear for their safety. I have been on the receiving end of some personal attacks and threats like 'we know where you are'. Can you imagine how this will be for the 70 per cent of operators who are women being told they have to publish their home address and a phone number and place it in public view for 28 days for anyone motivated to do so to menace or threaten applicants in the belief that they're to blame for the housing crisis.”
He has written to the council calling for personal details of business owners to be hidden on applications. In a letter to leader Cammy Day he said: "The council’s approach has already made us a target, so I think it's incumbent on you and others to follow ICO guidance and redact personal info. That's what needs to be on the licence application which is available for the public to view. Can I ask you as a matter of urgency to tackle this. I believe it's likely in breach of data protection.
“People are feeling endangered by a process which demands that some already being hung out to dry are then told to put their personal details in full public view."
Figures show licence applications have been submitted for only a fraction of current short-term let properties. Airbnb hosts and other self-catering providers in the city have claimed the scheme will drive thousands of businesses out of the sector and harm tourism. However, housing campaigners and others have said the scheme will help solve the city’s affordable housing shortage.
Sheila Averbuch said she has been targeted since supporting the campaign against the regulations. She said: “We’re just a normal part of the tourism sector. But we have been demonised and subjected to constant harassment. Someone posted a photo of me calling me a ‘con artist’ and a ‘daft landlord’. Our customers and my publisher were copied in. It’s horrifying. I haven’t been sleeping. I reported it and blocked them but was told by Twitter no action would be taken.”
An Edinburgh mum who runs a self-catering business said: "I have lived in Edinburgh for close to 30 years. It’s where I'm raising my family and worked so hard to establish my business. Following a social media thread where I raised valid concerns about the looming short term lets legislation, I have faced a barrage of harassment, abuse and vitriol that has, I’m not ashamed to say, really affected me.”
One woman was furious after landlords were branded ‘parasites’ and ‘entitled’ by a local councillor. She made an official complaint to the standards commissioner.
Cllr Finlay McFarlane said: “Nobody should be subject to abuse or threatening behaviour. Those STL businesses who are going through the process to seek a license are the fundamentally doing the right thing instead of avoiding or shirking their responsibilities and should be commended. I would encourage every responsible STL business owner to apply by the October 1st deadline.”
Cammy Day, leader of Edinburgh council, said: “I have been contacted on this issue and to be clear it is a legal requirement due to Scottish Government legislation for the council to ask businesses for these details which we are then required to publish.”