Plans for regulating short-term lets look good on paper
Earlier this year I stayed in an Airbnb in Glasgow for a friend’s wedding.
Not my choice – it was booked by another friend for herself and a couple of others and I decided to join them for a catch-up rather than going back to Edinburgh for the night.
Badly addressed and in a building difficult to access, the small three-bedroom flat apparently offered accommodation for ten people.
Which I suppose technically it did, by virtue of putting two double beds in the living room along with the sofa, TV and dining room table. It was a fine example of the need for regulation of short-term lets.
Last week the Scottish Government launched a consultation on proposals for the licensing of short-term lets in Scotland.
With an impressively rapid implementation period of April 2021, the new regulations should deal with some of the significant problems with short-term lets such as the lack of quality control for guests, anti-social behaviour affecting neighbours and properties that could be used as homes being repurposed as holiday accommodation.
From an initial look, the government proposals appear well thought out and detailed, offering both a degree of uniformity across Scotland as well as flexibility for local needs, both at a local authority level and within specific areas.
The Scottish Government is proposing a licensing scheme that requires all properties offered as short-term lets, regardless of how many days per year the property is let for, and no matter whether it is part or all of a person’s own home or a secondary let being used solely for that purpose.
All will require a licence from the council to continue operating. And adverts for short-term lets, whether online or printed, will be required to display the licence number of each property, with consequences for websites and agencies as well as landlords for failing to do so.
Standard licensing conditions will require that the property is in good condition and that it has appropriate health and safety measures in place such as gas safety checks; PAT and electrical installation condition reports; a fire safety assessment; smoke, heat and carbon monoxide alarms; appropriate insurance; and maximum occupancy levels, as well as not being in contravention of any mortgage or tenancy agreement.
Additional conditions may be imposed such as noise, litter and anti-social behaviour controls, arrival and departure curfews or a requirement that the host personally meets all guests at the property.
In addition, councils can designate all or part of their area as a short-term let control area. In control areas, any property where the host is not permanently resident will require planning permission for change of use to operate as a short-term let.
This can help where too many homes are being turned into short-term lets, for example, or to prevent short-term lets in inappropriate buildings.
The aim is for councils to be able to start operating licensing schemes from April 2021, with all councils required to have licensing in place by April 2022.
There will be transitional arrangements to allow licence applications to be processed, as well as an amnesty for those who are currently operating short-term lets in contravention of local planning conditions.
On paper it looks very positive, but of course, the test will be in the implementation.
It will depend on how easy it is to get agreement for control areas and how effective the planning system is at controlling unsuitable changes of use, whether councils actually check properties are of a suitable standard and to what extent checks and fines are made for those breaching licensing and planning requirements.