Give councils power to crack down on Airbnb, say Greens

Edinburgh's booming tourism industry has fueled the rise of short term lets. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Edinburgh's booming tourism industry has fueled the rise of short term lets. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Homeowners who want to rent out their properties through websites like AirBnB
would have to get a licence from their local council under proposals unveiled today by the Scottish Greens.

Lothians MSP Andy Wightman, who is leading a campaign against the growth of short-term letting in Edinburgh, has published a set of suggestions to reverse the spread of AirBnB lets that would not require legislation.

Mr Wightman’s Homes First campaign argues the growth of commercial short-term lets is “out of control” in Edinburgh, with critics claiming neighbourhood life is being driven out of parts of the capital as flats are given over to tourists and visitors.

Scottish ministers could use existing powers to give councils the authority to regulate the burgeoning industry, Mr Wightman says.

Under pressure from politicians and local residents, AirBnB has put forward its own proposals to limit lettings offered on the site to 90 days a year, over and above the summer festival peak season. The US web giant says it “welcomes discussions on clear home-sharing rules”.

Suggestions from the Greens’ housing spokesman include the creation of a new designation within in the planning system allowing councils to classify residential property being used for commercial holidays as short-term lets.

Councils could also introduce a licensing scheme to regulate short-term lets if ministers amend the 1982 Civic Government (Scotland) Act.

“These examples of legislation are intended to generate wider discussion about a situation that is clearly causing distress in communities such as Edinburgh,” Mr Wightman said. “Until now, there have been no substantial proposals beyond Airbnb suggesting it could set its own 156 day limit on its website.

“It seems reasonable to me that if someone rents out a room or their home for less than one month a year and it remains their main residence there should be no requirement for them to apply for either planning consent or a licence from the council but where there is a clear commercial activity, a change of use must be applied for and a licence sought.

He added: “Scottish ministers still don’t seem to get the difference between a person letting out a spare room or flat while they go away on holiday and an investor buying property for the intention of running a commercial business.

“Local councils need the power to regulate this sector to prevent further erosion of communities and loss of housing.”

Last month Edinburgh resident Nick Cummings told The Scotsman that there was “no sense of community anymore” in his Grassmarket area of the capital.

“We don’t know who is where,” Mr Cummings said. “People keep saying, ‘If you don’t like it, just move,’ but I was here long before this kicked off and I like living here. There is no consideration for residents.”