Revealed: One third of Airbnb lets being offered by property '˜barons'

The number of people staying in Airbnb accommodation in Edinburgh has rocketed by 70 per cent in the space of a year, according to a detailed new survey,
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And almost one third of Airbnb listings in the Capital are being offered by landlords with three or more properties on the site, it has emerged.

Critics say the revelation highlights the extent to which effectively property ‘barons’ are using Airbnb lets as a platform for commercial business and effectively gaming the system to get round taxation and regulation.

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Research from Colliers International found that Airbnb’s share of the visitor accommodation market in the city grew from 13 per cent in 2016 to 20 per cent in 2017.

Airbnb lets are on the rise in Edinburgh. Picture: TSPLAirbnb lets are on the rise in Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL
Airbnb lets are on the rise in Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL

But Airbnb dismissed the worries last night as a smear campaign by the hotel industry. The company, which is an official partner of the Fringe, has taken around 120,000 bookings for August in Edinburgh.

The Colliers findings revealed that there were more than 1.1 million overnight stays in Airbnb accommodation in the Capital during 2017 – a 70 per cent rise from 2016. The council believes there are more than 9,000 properties listed on Airbnb – whilst many more are available through other companies offering short term letting.

The city council will ask the Scottish Government to allow it to introduce a licensing system for short term lets, which could allow the number of Airbnb properties to be capped and ensure certain standards are met by landlords.

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Colliers said its study supports calls by the city council to regulate short term lets, a move that Airbnb is actively open to co-operating with.

Alistair Letham, a director for Colliers International in Edinburgh, said there were concerns within the hospitality industry that while the Airbnb website is an undoubted success story, it has, in part, been as a result of an “unlevel playing field”. He said: “However, you can’t blame property owners for taking the opportunity that has been provided. Given the shortage of affordable accommodation in Edinburgh, during the summer, you wouldn’t want to stifle this trade either. These statistics do show that there is a huge and growing demand for reasonably-priced visitor accommodation in the city, and the reported 120,000 visitors booking through Airbnb in Edinburgh in August 2018 alone. Airbnb is clearly filling a gap in the supply of affordable accommodation in Edinburgh, in the peak season.”

The council is worried that people exploiting professional short term letting is making life difficult for residents in the city.

Cllr Kate Campbell, Housing and Economy Convener, said: “These latest statistics tell us that significant numbers of short term lets are owned by people renting out multiple properties, not just people letting out a spare room or their own home for a short period.

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“The commercialisation of short term lets is having a negative impact on the day to day lives of our residents. It is also making it harder for people to find a home, and pushing up rents, by taking homes out of residential use altogether.

“The report on short term lets going to committee next week sets out how we will make best use of the powers we currently have. We’re also pleased that the Scottish Government have expressed a willingness to work with us to consider a licensing regime – something we think we really need to get to grips with to properly protect homes and communities.”

Green Lothians MSP Andy Wightman, has backed the council’s plans for a licensing regime and also called for planning rules to be changed.

He said: “The rapid spread of the short term letting industry is clear to residents of Edinburgh who have experienced disruption and anti social behaviour, it clearly makes our housing crisis worse and it is depriving local services of much needed tax revenue.

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“A licensing scheme as proposed by the city council would certainly be a step forward and I hope the Scottish Government responds positively to that call. The Government also needs to reform planning laws so short term lets are better captured by the system and can be better controlled by local authorities.”

Airbnb, which has itself proposed an annual 90-day cap on stay in Edinburgh excluding peak times,  has refuted the report and said the company ensures more money is kept in the local economy.

A spokeswoman for Airbnb said: “This is a shameless attempt by a hotel-funded research group to protect its vested interests and smear hosts who spread tourism benefits beyond hotels to local families and communities.

“The Scottish travel industry is stronger than ever and experts agree that Airbnb is only helping to grow and diversify tourism. Last year alone, home sharing put nearly £240 million in the pockets of Edinburgh families and boosted the Scottish economy by almost £1.5 million a day.

“Unlike other forms of accommodation who take money out of the places they do business, 97 percent of the accommodation cost goes straight to local families and stays in Scotland.”