Both in our city centres and in rural communities, the reliance of local economies on the tourism industry has resulted in the proliferation of short-term lets. Across Scotland, but most acutely in Edinburgh and the Highlands and Islands, more and more housing is being used as holiday accommodation for growing numbers of tourists. Each home that is used as a holiday let is one less for us as tenants to build a life in.
In October 2019, the Scottish Government published a report on the recent expansion of the short-term rental market on local communities. The number of AirBnBs has risen in Scotland from just under 10,500 listings in April 2016 to 31,884 in May 2019. However, as the sector remains so unregulated, the exact quantity remains impossible to determine. Whilst it was suggested that the ‘sharing economy’ would disrupt profits in the hotel industry, instead holiday-lets have become a manifestation of Silicon-Valley venture capital which is driving up land rents and producing concentrated losses of otherwise viable homes. In Edinburgh City Centre, 16.7% of all dwellings are AirBnBs alone, and on the Isle of Arran, 23% of all properties are used as holiday homes or second homes .
After four decades of housing being treated as a means for profit, rather than a human right, homeownership is falling, and the number of people experiencing homelessness continues to rise. The expansion of the short-term rental market hikes up this trend, where landlords can often make four times the profit in renting to tourists rather than tenants. This encourages others to turn their properties into holiday lets, and the problem ricochets across communities.
Living Rent members have long-held that these properties should first and foremost be long-term affordable homes rather than holiday-lets which sit vacant for the vast majority of the year. In the midst of the housing crisis, which has been worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, it is indefensible that any home should be empty. The policy solutions are clear cut. Our members have campaigned across Scotland for the Scottish Government to improve its regulation of short-term lets with the following demands:
- Holiday-let landlords should be licensed and subject to the same vetting procedures as those landlords in longer term lets
- A tax should be imposed on holiday-lets and this tax should be ring-fenced for building housing locally, rather than its proceeds feeding back into the tourist economy
- The number of holiday-lets should decrease, particularly in the most housing-constrained neighbourhoods where they are proliferating.
In 2019, we launched a petition calling on the government to enact these demands gathering over 13 700 signatures and repeated our demands in the government’s consultation last year. The government’s plans announced on the 8th of January 2020 that it would give local authorities the power to implement all of our demands. This was a tremendous victory for our members, but the fight is not over. Within a year, the Scottish Government has back-tracked on these commitments, whilst AirBnB have lobbied and gone on the charm-offensive around local communities that are saturated with holiday lets. In February 2021, the Scottish Government postponed further their plans for a licensing scheme to give councils new powers to tackle problems caused by the rapid growth of Airbnb-style holiday lets.
Since March 2020 and the onset of Covid-19 related restrictions, we have seen private rented markets become flooded with former 'holiday-lets' homes. Those experiencing homelessness were provided with temporary accommodation in former holiday lets and the population of rough sleepers in the City of Edinburgh were housed almost overnight. This shows how simple the solution can be if the Scottish Government has the political will to protect the inhabitants of our cities, towns, and neighbourhoods.
Without urgent regulation on holiday lets, when the tourism sector re-opens, we run the risk of inheriting a worse crisis for tenants’ than when the pandemic began. Living Rent members, therefore, will continue to organise and hold the government to account especially since they are being timorous on tackling this industry. Our tenants’ manifesto calls for restorative justice on vacant land to maximise public housing, and rent controls that actively bring rents down. This needs to be combined with regulation on short-term lets in order to effectively protect tenants now and after the pandemic.