Our policy executives, Gillian Mawdsley and Alison McNab, discuss the Scottish Government's proposals to regulate the short-term letting market.
The growing international popularity of Airbnb and other online rental platforms has shone the spotlight on the use of short-term lets. As a result, the Scottish Government is now considering a new regulatory approach to short-term letting.
Short-term lets provide significant economic benefit through tourism to our communities. However, concerns have been raised over the uncontrolled increase in their numbers, the impact on available accommodation for families, and the lack of control on antisocial behaviour from guests.
Scotland is not unique in grappling with these issues and other countries have introduced controls over such short-term lets.
How to control
The Scottish short-term lets sector is largely unregulated, and the arising issues affect planning law and policy as well as other areas including property, licensing, consumer, tax and criminal law.
Planning reforms might provide the first means of control. Currently, there are inconsistencies in practice as certain local authorities treat short-term lets as a material change of use requiring planning permission. Since there is no clear definition of what constitutes a material change of use, this requires short-term lets to be considered on a case-by-case basis. The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 includes powers to resolve this issue – planning authorities may designate all or part of their area as a short-term let control area and the use of a property within that area for short-term lets is a material change of use.
What is the Scottish Government proposing?
At the outset, there must be a definition of “short-term lets”. The consultation suggests that short-term lets should include accommodation made available for a cumulative period of 28 days or more in any rolling period of 365 days. The consultation also looks at:
- the range and differences in the short-term lets market such as “sharing”, “swapping” and “secondary lets”;
- the need to distinguish between small scale/commercial hosts and different types of property; and
- the associated problems with fire safety, anti-social behaviour and tax issues.
The Scottish Government prefers a regulatory approach based on a ‘menu’ of options from which local authorities would choose. These include a registration or licensing scheme, market-based mechanisms (like a charge), and a limit on the number of days for which a host can let on a short-term basis without there being a material change of use.
There appears to be a lack of robust data on the numbers and location of the short-term lets market in Scotland. We have called for a strong evidence-based approach to support any new form of regulation and we have highlighted the need to avoid over-regulation. While the regulation of short-term lets within the planning context may be a desirable approach, we recognise that this may not provide the health and safety protections which could be achieved by introducing a registration or licensing regime.
We support a framework regime with a ‘menu’ of options to be selected and enforced on a local authority-by-local authority basis.