The ASSC is the leading source of knowledge on short-term letting and holiday homes in Scotland. Since our founding in 1978, we’ve grown from just a handful of members meeting around a table to include nearly 700 members covering over 7,000 properties across Scotland. We are also Scotland’s only trade body representing our vital sector and as such we care deeply about its health, future, and the positive contribution all of us who work in it make to life in Scotland.
The good news is that the traditional self-catering sector across Scotland is in rude health. According to a report from Frontline, our sector contributes approximately £723million to the Scottish economy each and every year while also supporting thousands of jobs and ensuring the health of many small and medium sized businesses from Elgin to Ettrick and from Ayr to Applecross. Our sector is excelling at providing one of a kind experiences to visitors and staycationers alike – that’s why the report is called ‘Far More Than Just Houses’, because, with short-term rental as an active and enthusiastic part of the Scottish tourism mix, that’s what we help thousands of people create from their properties.
However, we are also a realistic sector with our feet planted firmly on the ground. We realise that there are those who have concerns about our sector and the impact it has on Scotland. While we are of the opinion that much of this – especially some of the more scandalous stories – are either purely anecdotal or are recycled and half-remembered tall tales, about people stumbling into flats in all manners of undress, for example, we pride ourselves on being a sector that listens to the communities that we work in and we are determined to work together towards a solution that works for all.
It is with our ears well and truly tuned to what local communities have to say to us, and after much honest and constructive dialogue with local government, stakeholders, and communities, that I am pleased to say that, today, the ASSC is announcing the publication of a policy paper outlining how we think the sector can best work within our communities.
We call it the “Long-Term Approach to Short-Term Letting” because that’s what we believe that we have done. We’ve created a solution that works into the future and works for all.
Our long-term approach takes into consideration two areas of concern that some local communities have expressed and proposes solutions to address them while also preserving the flexibility, responsiveness, and innovation that makes our sector such an industry leader.
Firstly, since some people have expressed concern about the growth of the traditional self-catering sector in certain areas, we propose the creation of a registration scheme at a local level. This forward-thinking proposal would see the initiative handed to those who know their areas best, local authorities, who we would call on to set up a simple, efficient, online registration scheme that all STR operators must sign up to, with all the information going to local authorities and therefore putting local authorities much more in the picture as to the scale and impact of the traditional self-catering sector, on the ground, where they are.
One of the main issues with our sector, and those of us working within it realise this more than most, is that there is a lack of information around it – this is part of the reason that we commissioned and published Far More Than Just Houses– and we believe that an online registration system, managed by councils, would help alleviate this problem. Such a registration scheme would provide councils with the accurate, real-time information of the size and scale of the traditional self-catering market in their area and allow them the best basis from which to make policies that work in the interests of all.
The second part of our long-term approach to short-term letting has been designed to address the concerns that some have expressed regarding the impact that short-term rentals have on housing stock.
While the Far More Than Just Houses report shows clearly that there is little to no correlation between a lack of housing stock and the volume of short-term rental accommodation in any area in Scotland, we are nonetheless committed to collaborative working with communities across Scotland and, as such, we have taken the decision to support the introduction of rent pressure zones in areas which require them.
We, at the ASSC, are of the view that if an area is deemed to have an issue with housing stock, that is to say if rent increases are too high, if those increases are having a negative impact on local communities, or if the available housing stock is causing difficulties for local councils, then those councils should ask Scottish Ministers to bring into effect a rent pressure zone for that area, following appropriate consultation with residents and landlords.
Under our long-term plan, if an area is designated as an RPZ, an upper limit would be set on how much existing tenants can have their rents increased by on an annual basis and would therefore find their rents much more manageable in a high-demand area.
However, this policy goes even further. The ASSC also advocates that if an area is designated as an RPZ then this constitutes legitimate grounds to claim that there is a demonstrable housing shortage in that area and therefore the local authority should have the ability to restrict the number of short-term rentals operating in that area. To that effect, this would mean that anyone who intended to operate a short-term rental property inside an RPZ for more than 140 nights per year (the figure currently used to determine if a property pays business rates or not, and is therefore deemed commercial) would be required to obtain a licence from the council in order to do so. This would allow traditional short-term rental letters, who, for eample, only let out their flat when they’re on holiday or out of the country, and home-sharers, to continue unimpeded. However, it would give councils the power to regulate and control short-term lets in the areas in which they are most concentrated and have been the subject of recent complaints.
In addition to achieving the balance between the rights of operators, the rights of visitors, and the rights of local residents; our long-term approach to short-term letting has one more key strength – it is possible right now, with existing legislation. The registration schemes, to help local authorities gather information, and the rent pressure zones that we advocate enthusiastically as a means to reassuring local communities that we are on their side, are possible under the Private Tenancies (Scotland) Act 2016. With the right political will and public support, our fair, clear, and balanced long-term approach is possible right now and all of us at the ASSC think it’s about time to get cracking!
At the ASSC our vision for the future of Scotland’s traditional short-term rental sector is one in which we continue to make a solid, dependable, and positive contribution to Scottish life and to our world-leading tourism offering as well as one in which we recognise our obligations and responsibilities to those we share our towns, cities, and villages with. We believe in balance, fairness, and transparency as well as accountability, responsibility, and acting in good faith. If our long-term approach to short-term lettings is adopted then this is the future, and these are the values, that we would be putting into practice.
Short-term letting is a great industry. It allows those from around the world to come here and live cheek-by-jowl with those of us who call Scotland our permanent home and also offers the same opportunity to Scots who want to see another part of our country through the eyes of someone who lives there. While there are those out there who, for whatever personal or malevolent reason, would happily see our sector crippled by excessive regulation or banned outright, this would be a mistake – both economically and socially for Scotland.
The need for the right approach here cannot be overstated. Self-catering and short-term rentals are tremendously important to Scotland’s utterly unique tourism offering and as such we ought to be careful and be led by evidence rather than anecdote in our approach. If we are overly timid, we risk creating mere paper rules that succeed only in sapping money from our hard-pressed local authorities, and do not assuage the concerns that some of our communities have. Alternatively, if we impose inflexible, aggressive rules, fuelled by emotion and rumour rather than solid proof, then there is the real risk that we may throttle the very life out of our sector and the livelihoods of the people who work in it.
In practical terms, that would risk:
However, with the kind of inclusive, positive, and community-led approach that can be found in our long-term approach to short-term letting we can keep our sector world-leading while also addressing the concerns that some people have about its impact. If we work together on a local level, we can find a solution that works into the future for all, a long-term approach, if you will.
A copy of the ‘Long-Term Approach to Short-Term Letting’ policy paper is here: ASSC Policy Paper
A copy of the ‘Far More Than Just Houses’ report is available here: MoreThanJustHouses.