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Short-Term Rental in Edinburgh – a Response

An article in The National, written by Vonny Leclerc (National, 26th March 2019), blames short-term rental for the housing crisis in Edinburgh.

Fiona Campbell, Chief Executive of the ASSC, responds:

“Ms Leclerc’s article relies on anecdote and emotion – we at the ASSC prefer to consider the issue empirically.

“Scotland, and our capital city in particular, just doesn’t have houses available to meet the needs of our population. This lack of housing represents one of the biggest challenges that we face as a country and, without doubt, something must be done about it and soon.

“Sadly, in the context of the housing crisis, this is where our politicians and pressure groups make a huge mistake as they continually misdiagnose the problem and how it came about.

“Whether they are spurred on by their own self-interest, politically motivated reasoning, or the need to feel relevant, some opinion-makers have decided that there is a direct relationship between the number of short-term rentals in Scotland, especially in Edinburgh, and the housing crisis.

“Short-term rentals (STRs) are neither “new” nor a “problem”. STRs have been about for years and have always formed part of Scotland’s rich tourism offering. Short-term rentals are worth £723million of economic activity each year in Scotland.

The truth is that the short-term rental market actually accounts for a tiny percentage of housing stock.

“We recently published a report (Far More Than Just Houses) which shows that there are five times as many empty properties in Scotland than there are self-catering properties. There are only 16,692 professional STR units across Scotland, a wholly insignificant number in housing stock terms compared to 37,000 empty homes according to the Scottish Government.

Traditional self-catering properties account for just 0.5% of Edinburgh’s housing stock.

Short-term rentals simply aren’t there in sufficient numbers to have a significant impact on housing supply.

“What has led to the housing crisis is the fact that not enough houses have been built.

“The governments of the 1970s through to the 1980s oversaw a massive reduction in housing construction – and this continued through the 1990s and the 2000s by successive administrations. This is understandable. Governments face competing pressures, and committing to house building is a large commitment for any government to undertake;

“But the fact is that the reduction in house-building year-on-year combined with a steady increase in population9 per cent by 2039 – and net migration has resulted in loss of housing stock and a rise in rents.

“Compared to these factors, whatever increase in short-term rentals there may have been in Scotland or anywhere else is insignificant.

“The article claims that there is “one holiday let for every resident”. This can best be described as utter nonsense and provably untrue, given that Edinburgh’s population exceeds 500,000.

Data from Airbnb (February 2019) shows that there are 10,500 listings in Edinburgh. However, it is important to keep the proportion of activity in context. 53 percent of hosts in Edinburgh share their space for under 30 nights and across Scotland about 40 percent of listings are private rooms. These properties are very much part of Edinburgh’s housing stock.

“Airbnb properties represent 2.5% of Edinburgh’s housing stock. 59% of these are entire homes. Just 9% of the 2.5% are properties that operate over 140 days (which can be considered full time, or professional, and thus removing the property form housing stock).

“But let’s face it, it’s far easier to make a scapegoat out of an industry than it is to look back on the past decades of housing policy and conclude era-definingmistakes have been made in planning and execution.

“To blame short-term rentals is easy, and can be morphed into a moral crusade for people to get irate and indignant about.

“The ASSC welcomes mention of Rent Pressure Zones in the article. In fact, the ASSC welcomes this policy to guard against over-concentration.

“The ASSC recently published 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.

“People have expressed concern about the growth of the traditional self-catering sector in certain areas, despite a lack of empirical data to back this claim up. So, we propose the creation of a registration scheme at a local level. This would allow local authorities to understand the scale and impact of STR in their area.

“If the data retrieved from the registration scheme shows a demonstrable correlation between STR and housing shortage or an increase in rent which is having a negative impact on local communities, we support the introduction of rent pressure zones in areas which require them.

“It is possible right now, with existing legislation in place with The Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016.

“We suggest that if an area is designated as an RPZ and a demonstrable housing shortage has been identified, and this is being negatively impacted by STR, the local authority should have the ability to restrict the number of short-term rentals operating in that area.

“This would mean that anyone who intended to operate a short-term rental property inside an RPZ for more than 140 nights per year would need to obtain a licence from the council in order to do so. This 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.

“It is vital to achieve a balance between the rights of operators, the rights of visitors, and the rights of local residents.

“Our proposed approach is evidence and data driven, and provides a solution to the perceived problem.

“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.”

Read the policy paper: ASSC Policy Paper: Long-Term Approach to Short-Term Letting

Read the report: Far More Than Just Houses

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