Western Isles empty homes scheme used for Airbnb style lets

Empty homes renovated under a scheme intended to ease pressure on housing stocks are being rented out to tourists in the Western Isles, according to a new report.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar appointed an empty homes officer in April 2018 and since then 61 properties have been renovated, The Herald has reported.

Despite the achievement, the local authority said that the “intention of the majority of owners is to enter the short-term lets and Airbnb market”.

The report said: “Of the empty homes refurbished or in the process of being refurbished, the intention of the majority of owners is to enter the short-term lets and Airbnb market.

“The Comhairle has little control over the use to which owners put their properties and whilst the sustainable growth of tourism is a long-standing objective of the Comhairle and its community planning partners, the redeployment of these often family-sized properties has significant impact on the amount of homes which are being made available for long-term private sector rent throughout the islands.”

A spokesman for the council said that it did not provide any funding support for owners, only “practical advice.”

The spokesman said: “Once a property is brought back into use, we don’t really have any say or control on what the owner uses the property for. We do know that several owners have said that they are keen on using their property for holiday lets.

“A number of councils do provide grant or loan support for empty homes, but these are all on the condition that the property can only be used for private rent (and not for holiday accommodation). This would be the Comahirle’s preference too.”

Last week, ministers announced plans to implement a licensing scheme and give councils the power to introduce control areas.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government added: “Empty homes and derelict buildings can be a blight on communities which is why we invest £400,00 each year to support the SEHP.

“This scheme, run by housing charity Shelter, provides a national advice and information service and supports the introduction of dedicated empty homes officers. It is better for homes to be in use than lying derelict.”

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