Airbnb plans to impose 90-day restriction on lets in Edinburgh

Short term letting company Airbnb is planning to restrict Edinburgh landlords using its platform from renting out flats for longer than 90 days a year as part of a series of proposals which aim to find a balance between serving tourists and residents in the Scottish capital.

Setting out recommendations to an expert panel created by the Scottish Government to consider policy changes affecting short-terms lettings in Scotland, Airbnb said the regulations should not include the peak periods during the Fringe in August and the Winter Festival period of December to January.

The report, which is to be published next week, is set to reveal the proposals in full.

The announcement comes amid complaints that the rise of rental flats let through companies such as Airbnb is adding to the pressure on Edinburgh’s housing stock.

Last month a report by University of Sheffield academic Alasdair Rae revealed that 9,638 properties were listed for short-term let in Edinburgh on Airbnb in September 2017, an increase of 54% in just over a year from 6,272 in July 2016. Of those 9,638 listings, 5,474 (or 56.8%) were for whole properties.

Green MSP Andy Wightman, who has campaigned on behalf of constituents and was a partner in the University of Sheffield report, said: “Airbnb are very welcome to put forward ideas about how their own operation might be reformed to assist us in regulating short-term lets. There is a risk, however, of confusing two very different issues. The first is the rules around people sharing their own main home as part of the collaborative economy. The second is the conversion of homes into commercial short term letting operations.

“If Airbnb are willing to help limit the abuse of their online operation by commercial letting operators, that is welcome, but by itself would not solve the problem.”

Co-convener of the Scottish Greens, Patrick Harvie MSP, pressed First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during this week’s FMQ’s to give local councils powers to control the rapid growth of short-term lets.

Mr Harvie said the increasing practice is “exacerbating the housing crisis in city centres and in rural communities”.

He added: “Scottish Ministers have said this issue will be addressed by their working group on the collaborative economy but as my colleague Andy Wightman has said, the removal of badly-needed housing from supply is not collaborative – it’s commercial exploitation. The government has the power to create new use class orders through the planning system, which local councils could use to help control the rapid and unregulated growth of this sector.

“The First Minister’s response that she understands the distinction between collaborating and exploitation is welcome, as is her statement that she is not ruling out giving councils the necessary powers.”

Initially set up as a pioneer of the so-called “sharing economy”, Airbnb allows people to rent out a spare room in their home, or the entire property, if they were away for a short period. However, in recent years, it has been claimed that ‘professional landlords’ have increasingly become involved in the business, renting out multiple properties on a year-round basis.

An Airbnb spokesman said: “We always welcome discussions on clear home sharing rules and are pleased that Scotland is taking steps to support local families.

“Airbnb guests boost Scotland’s economy by £1m a day and we are pleased to be working with the government on clear home sharing rules, so more Scots can benefit directly from innovative forms of tourism.”