“Its Airbnb Jim, but not as we know it!”

In Edinburgh, short-term letting as we know it will change beyond recognition this year.

 

Since setting this business up in 2017, I have been asked, “What’s going to happen to short term lets this year….?”.  Meaning, will this be the year City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) implement their long-anticipated regulations.  Well, in 2023, we finally got the answer.  Or did we?

 

For those who might not know, as of October 1st 2023, all existing short term let owners in Scotland were required to apply for a Short Term Lets Licence, and they could continue to operate until such a time a licence was (or was not) granted.  Additionally, CEC opted to declare all of the City of Edinburgh a ‘Short Term Let Control Area’, meaning that operators would also need to apply for planning consent, changing the classification of their property from residential to commercial.  Any new properties, must obtain a licence before operating.

 

Unsurprisingly, this legislation was met with well-organised and well-funded opposition, which led to 2 Judicial Reviews, to which I will affectionately refer to as JR1 and JR2.  Both Reviews found largely in favour of the petitioners and were heralded as successes.  But were they?  Judicial Reviews are part-and-parcel of the legislative process and more-often-than-not, lead to legislation being altered, but rarely reversed.  And this is the case with both JR1 and JR2.

 

Indeed, CEC’s planning committee met in January, with the implications of JR2 up for discussion.  In the spirit of being an engaged partner, the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC), who have worked tirelessly to advocate for the industry, had tabled recommendations for CEC to consider that offered an exit out of the corner they were finding themselves in.  CEC declined to adopt any of these, but did appear to be very aware of their post-JR2 position and the need to change tack in order to accommodate it.  Any changes were to be tabled for the next meeting, initially scheduled for June ’24.  Somewhat tellingly, this meeting has now been rearranged for a much earlier date in April.

 

Why is this telling?  Whilst they may move at a glacial pace sometimes, the Council has weight and momentum behind them.  They will continue inexorably on their chosen path.  Neither JR1 nor JR2 have changed this trajectory.   The Council’s narrative is that there is a housing crisis, nay emergency, and that Airbnb is the reason why.  This is an easy narrative to sell.  The public can see it, evidenced by rising prices and hoards of weekend visitors, luggage in hand, coming-and-going at Waverley.   Of course, with all easy-to-understand narratives, it is simplistic and fails to consider myriad reasons why there is a housing crisis in Edinburgh/Scotland/UK/the rest of the western world!  But no one has managed to successfully counter this argument.  Any such counterpoint requires thought and nuance, and those are hard to sell.

 

This may all sound somewhat surprising and fatalistic, coming from someone who has built his business serving this market, but I would suggest that it is sometimes better to bend like a willow rather than stand like an oak.  This is why we moved in to the long-term lettings market in 2019.  And why we have plans to offer new services and move into new geographies in 2024.  Change is coming, so we have adapted.

What will remain of the short-term lettings market?  Several of our clients have successfully obtained secondary let licences, such as National Trust for Scotland.  Others’ have successfully had their Certificate of Lawfulness grandfathered in as they have operated for 10+ years.  Some have successfully applied for Home Letting/Sharing Licences in order to offer their home for short-term lets whilst they travel.  And yet others will apply for a temporary licence, allowing them to select 6 weeks in any given year to operate as a short-term let property.  We will certainly continue to serve this market.  We have invested a lot in our people, systems, and technology to provide the flexibility and over-sight these new market conditions will demand.  And we will continue to delight our guests with great hospitality and the warm welcome that Scotland is renowned for.