A Crack Down on Airbnb?

A number of Edinburgh short-term lettings on Airbnb have been the subject of enforcement notices by the City Council. Is this the beginning of a longer term trend? 

Nicola Golden is the owner of a one-bedroom flat in Chancelot Terrace, Edinburgh. Mrs Golden lives however in California for the majority of the year. The Edinburgh property is kept as a holiday home for her and her family. For the rest of the year, it is advertised for short-term holiday lets on Airbnb. In the year 2017/18, the property was occupied on short-term lets for 36.7% of the time, used by Mrs Golden (or other members of her family) for 22.5% of the time, and was vacant for the remaining 40.8%. During the periods when the flat was vacant it remained advertised on Airbnb, a relatively common arrangement. 

Following a complaint from a neighbour in the same tenement, Edinburgh Council served a planning Enforcement Notice on Mrs Golden alleging a change in use in the property without having obtained Planning Permission: from residential to “short-stay commercial visitor accommodation”. Mrs Golden appealed to the Scottish Government against the Notice, arguing that (1) there had not been a change of use, and (2) that even if there had been it was not sufficiently material as to require Planning Permission. Her appeal was heard by a Reporter appointed by the Scottish Government. 

In a judgment issued on 21st May the Reporter dismissed her appeal. The Reporter held that, on balance, a change of use of the property had taken place. Considering factors such as the character of the property, the frequency of letting, the frequency of noisy activity, and the likely impact on the rest of the tenement, he held that the change of use was material: as such, it required Planning Permission. Mrs Golden therefore had to stop letting out the property on Airbnb.

The Future? 

Mrs Golden has appealed the Reporter’s decision to the Court of Session, and it may be that she will win her appeal based on the specific facts of her case. Nevertheless, it would appear that a stronger line is being taken against Airbnb lets in Edinburgh.

 A number of other Enforcement Notices by the Council are currently working their way through the Planning system regarding short-term lets, with a similar case being decided at the beginning of September. The Green Party (led in this matter by Andy Wightman MSP) have proposed amendments to the Planning (Scotland) Bill which would establish a requirement to obtain Planning Permission if one wishes to use a property as a holiday home or for short-term lets.

These developments may be seen in a broader context as bringing Edinburgh into line with many other large tourist cities throughout the world. From Barcelona to London, restrictions have been placed on Airbnb-style lettings in order to preserve the character of residential neighbourhoods. It seems likely that Edinburgh may soon be following suit.