Airbnb impacts causing concern across Europe, by Cliff Hague

Europe's major tourist cities are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of Airbnb and similar accommodation sharing platforms.

What started as an "amateur" venture, allowing somebody to rent out a spare bed for a couple of nights, is seemingly an increasingly professionalised exercise that is diminshing the stock of low rent housing, particularly in historic parts of cities. A recent study by the Residential Landords Association (RLA) found over 53,000 Airbnb listings in London, an increase of 60% in just over 12 months.

The Deregulation Act 2015, s44 facilitated this boom. It removed the requirement for planning permission for change of use when letting a property in Greater London. It allowed individuals to let property in which they were the council tax payer for periods of less than 90 consecutive nights provided that the short lets, in aggregate, did not exceed 90 nights in any one year.

The RLA found that in London "The number of entire home/apartment listed on Airbnb has increased by 54% in over 12 months, with an 8% increase in the number of these listings that are available for over 90 nights per year. This is now a potential 12,213 homes unavailable for families to rent for the long term." Elsewhere in the UK, conversion to Airbnb sits outside planning control.

The city authorities in Barcelona have locked horns with Airbnb, fining them 600,000 Euros for continuing to advertise unlicensed flats. For enforcement Barcelona has 40 inspectors checking apps as they walk the streets; that number will increase to 100. Janet Sanz, the Barcelona councillor responsible for housing, expresses a view that might seem eccentric to British planners reared on an "enabling role" for their profession, "We will do everything we can to guarantee the right to housing in the city… Barcelona exists for its people. The priority is it’s a place to live." 

Berlin has also taken action to try to protect the supply of affordable housing. In 2014 the city passed legislation requiring non-city residents operating short term lets of entire apartments to get permits or face hefty fines. There was a two-year transition period, so it became effective last year, and the Airbnb Berlin listings fell by 40%. However, a court case a few weeks ago ruled that a resident could rent out entire premises for up to 182 days a year, and a case in 2016 had ruled that permits should be given for people renting out second homes in the city.

The European Commission has struck a generally supportive tone towards Airbnb and similar platforms, arguing that they are good for business and growth, and that restrictions should only be applied as a last resort. However, here in Edinburgh there is mounting concern that the Old Town is being "cleansed" of its traditional community as investors buy up properties for short-term lets. The new preponderance of absentee owners spells trouble for effective coordination of common repairs to tenements. Some cross-party MSPs are eying the forthcoming Planning Bill as a way to do something about it.

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