Twists and turns of Airbnb lets have a way to go - David Alexander

With rising protests from permanent residents and the promise of tighter controls by local authorities, it seems to be presumed that Edinburgh and other parts of Scotland that draw large numbers of tourists will soon experience a substantial reduction in the plethora of Airbnb and similar short-stay lettings.
David Alexander is managing director of DJ AlexanderDavid Alexander is managing director of DJ Alexander
David Alexander is managing director of DJ Alexander

Hmm, perhaps. Then again, perhaps not.

It was reported last week that one-such owner in the capital – who had hosted more than 10,000 guests – successfully challenged an attempt by the City of Edinburgh Council to prevent him short-letting four properties, after the decision was overturned by the government Reporter.

What seems to have influenced the Reporter’s decision was the fact that all four properties were situated in the one building, with no permanent residences within the block. Therefore, she concluded, continued use would not cause a significant increase in external noise and disturbance “to the extent that the local residents will be subjected to a significant loss of amenity”.

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This might seem a contradiction given the pledge by the Scottish Government, before this year’s Holyrood elections, to give local authorities real powers to control short-stay, leisure accommodation within their respective areas. Nevertheless, I can see where the Reporter was coming from in this instance. It is certainly unusual for an entire building (outside the corporate sector) to be given over to accommodation of this type and as such, the only people likely to be disturbed by any increased internal noise – from luggage being frequently bumped up and down the common stairway to more boisterous behaviour after drink having been taken – are other short-stay visitors.

However the key word here is internal. Tourist accommodation – whether it be hotels, bed and breakfast establishments or holiday flats – tends to attract increased street noise from various sources. This includes taxis frequently pulling up then “waiting” with noisy diesel engines still running before drawing away; groups of smokers chatting (and not always quietly) at external doorways; and pedestrians coming and going late at night, not just on Friday and Saturday but during the working week as well.

But as the people they cater for are, after all, on holiday, who can blame them?

Unfortunately this is often not appreciated by permanent residents who rise at 6.30 in the morning from Monday to Friday to get ready for work; who prefer to live cheek by jowl with households with roughly similar lifestyles; and who have no desire to see the character of their neighbourhood undergo significant change.

It used to be said that one of the great things about Edinburgh was that it was possible to enjoy having all the shopping, social and cultural amenities on one’s doorstep without any of the downsides that usually come with city centre living. But that is no longer the case.

Early last month the council launched a consultation exercise looking at short-term lettings in the city – which has 31per cent of all Airbnb listings in Scotland - and to what extent, if any, these should be brought under control. But the wheels of government – both local and national – move slowly and I wonder just how long it will take before a definite policy with a strict interpretation of the regulations becomes reality.

Edinburgh does have an enforcement team looking at individual cases but as their number is limited and each case involves a lengthy process, who knows how many short-stay landlords are operating under the radar and getting away with it?

Meanwhile, with visitor numbers on the rise again, short-term letting activity – at one time during the pandemic almost non-existent – is likely to increase in tandem given the surpluses to be earned. Consequently, perhaps we can expect more council “refusals” to be challenged in the courts, especially when it concerns a grey area like the one referred to at the start of this article.

David Alexander is managing director of DJ Alexander



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