Edinburgh short-term lets: Operators take council to court to fight 'extermination' of livelihoods

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Operators have raised a petition to take the council to Court to stop the ‘extermination’ of short-term lets.

A group of short-term let owners is taking Edinburgh city council to court over the ‘de facto ban’ on holiday lets in the capital.

It’s hoped the court challenge will force the council to scrap ‘onerous’ rules designed to crackdown on Airbnb holiday lets which are already taking effect. In a bid to address the city’s housing shortage, Edinburgh brought in a new raft of policies to return thousands of controversial holiday lets to residential use.

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Ralph Averbuch, who has run self-catering units in the heart of the city since 2005, said operators face the threat of ‘extermination’ under new rules being applied retrospectively across the whole of Edinburgh. "If by some miracle every single self-catering unit in the city were to become overnight a long-term let, it would not touch the sides of the issue of affordable rents and availability of accommodation,” he said.

Ralph Averbuch says new regulations are decimating the sector in EdinburghRalph Averbuch says new regulations are decimating the sector in Edinburgh
Ralph Averbuch says new regulations are decimating the sector in Edinburgh

"Shelter Scotland has been saying what's needed is to build affordable homes. They might as well be talking to a brick wall. So the actions right now by the council are essentially an exercise in distraction from the real issue which is decades of politicians not building.

"We are a convenient scapegoat for masking the politics of failure on this front. Even now the council is taking brownfield sites and doing deals to turn them into hotels owned by foreign investment vehicles which will contribute little to the economy and take out the maximum possible to pay remote shareholders."

Backed by the Association of Scotland's Self Caterers, Mr Averbuch and three other operators have smashed their £300,000 crowdfunding target to pay for legal costs, after raising a petition for a Judicial review.

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The first court hearing comes on Thursday, May 11, several weeks after councillors were blasted for not being tough enough after they voted to approve a proposal for a holiday let in the Old Town in a test of the new rules.

New curbs on short-term letsNew curbs on short-term lets
New curbs on short-term lets

Mr Averbuch warned the sector has already taken a hit with ‘reasonable’ operators being rejected in their applications. He warned of unintended ‘blowback’ including pushing up the cost of all accommodation.

"Temporary NHS staff cannot get anywhere to live to carry out short term contracts and, frankly, no worker fulfilling a short term employment gig is going to want to stay in a hotel - they need a home from home,” he said.

"We know up to 40 per cent of short term lets are temporary workers. To be wiping a significant percentage of this key hospitality asset is driving up costs across all types of remaining accommodation by reducing supply. That’s the worst part. And reasonable operators are being denied permission for change of use, so falling at the first hurdle. They can’t get a licence so it’s a death sentence.

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“It’s going to make Edinburgh more elitist. The council can’t solve Edinburgh’s housing crisis by building hotels and taking local people’s livelihoods away indiscriminately. We need housing and the council needs to actually map out what the need is and then work from there, not wipe out short-term lets as if that’s a panacea.”

Earlier this year, Edinburgh became Scotland's first holiday let 'control zone' meaning that any short-term let that is not the owner's principal home must have planning permission in place. New hosts also need to obtain a licence before they can operate as a short-term let. Existing hosts had until April 1, 2023 to apply for a licence and can continue operating while their application is assessed.

Following a dispute between the council and Edinburgh festivals over the clampdown an extension was granted, giving homeowners until September to apply for a licence.

However, applicants will not be given a licence for short-term lets in tenements or for shared door properties unless there is a “good reason” for an exemption. Since January 2022 there have been 133 planning applications for short-term lets refused and 65 withdrawn.

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A City of Edinburgh Council spokesperson said: “The hearing for the Judicial Review is later this week and we will not be commenting further at this stage on this live legal action. We’ll be in a position to say more on the issue when the court makes its judgement.”

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