Sturgeon says councils could get power to police Airbnb

Nicola Sturgeon. Picture:  Andrew MacColl/REX/Shutterstock
Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Andrew MacColl/REX/Shutterstock
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Nicola Sturgeon has said she would “not rule out” handing powers to councils to allow them to block short-term let properties rented through sites such as Airbnb.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said individual planning authorities needed to consider holiday let properties on a case by case basis – but said she would consider bringing forward new laws which could see planning authorities more easily able to police short-term lets.

A report into the “collaborative economy” is due to be published next week following a consultation by the Scottish Expert Advisory Panel on the Collaborative Economy to examine the issue of the so-called “sharing economy”.

The issue was raised by Green MSP Patrick Harvie, whose party has laid out proposals for an addition to planning use class orders which would, if actioned by councils, require properties to apply for a change of use before they could be rented to tourists. At present, there is no classification for short-term holiday lets.

The sector has sparked controversy in recent years as a growing number of neighbours of holiday let flats complain of noise disturbance and antisocial behaviour.

Mr Harvie told MSPs a distinction had to be made between between the “collaborative economy” and the “exploitative housing economy”.

When Airbnb was launched, it aimed to allow householders to rent out their properties while they were away for short period, or supplement their incomes through renting out their spare room. However, in recent years, entrepreneurs have used the site to market properties specifically bought to rent out as holiday lets.

He said: “The government can allow councils to use planning use class orders to make it clear that there’s a distinction between a home being a home and a home being converted into a mini hotel using continual short-term lets. Councils should have the option.”

Ms Sturgeon said: “It is for the planning authority to consider the evidence case by case. I know there is an argument to make that new powers are required and I am not ruling that out.”

MSP Andy Wightman, who has led the Green Party’s lobbying on the issue of short-term lets, told The Scotsman: “If you want to change a house to a shop, you have to have a change of consent. There is currently no class for a short-term commerical let.

“If one council doesn’t have the need of this in there area, that is fine, but bringing this through legislation would give councils like Edinburgh the chance to have this in their toolkit.”

Earlier this week, Airbnb revealed the proposals it has put to the panel, which also includes representatives from Uber, VisitScotland and IT body ScotlandIS, which suggest that short-term letting hosts in Edinburgh would be restricted to renting out their properties for just 90 days a year – outwith peak festival periods.