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By Graham Norwood

Editor, LAT & LLT

Graham Awards


What do we do about a problem like Airbnb?

Some people will say: What problem?

But they are getting fewer as the detrimental effect of increasing numbers of short lets on supply for long term renting in many local housing markets has become painfully clear.

The real answer, of course, is more house building at price points and across a range of tenures appropriate to local housing needs.


However, as we are about to have a new Prime Minister who proudly says she will abolish even existing house building targets (inadequate as they may be) let’s not hold our breath for this solution to be enacted.

Instead, short term measures are inevitable and already happening.

The Welsh government is making it harder for holiday lets - on short let platforms or more traditional alternatives - to win business rate status. Prior to the change of Prime Minister, the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities was reported to have considered giving elected mayors to insist Airbnb hosts won planning consent before marketing their properties. And in Scotland Airbnb and similar hoists need licences to reduce the risk of anti-social behaviour.

So far, so well known.

But with increasingly shrill reporting about the damage of short lets on local communities, and increasingly flamboyant gestures by Airbnb to try to divert attention from the side-effects of short lets, is it time for more direct intervention?

Two examples of local government activity have shown what might happen in future, on a widespread basis, if the short let phenomenon continues to expand.

One is in the UK, where Highland Council has spent up to £180,000 on each of 40 homes it has purchased to stop them becoming holiday homes and Airbnbs.

Around 130 sellers are reported to have shown an interest and the council says it hopes to buy additional homes later this year. The purchased properties will be used to let long-term to key workers or local residents.

House values are low in that area, so it is arguably easy to make a little public money go a long way in terms of impact.

The other example is - to my great surprise - in the United States, where public sector intervention (at least outside of Covid-related activity) is highly selective. 

The local council in the city of Sedona in Arizona is paying short let hosts in Sedona between $3,000 and $10,000 each to remove their listings from Airbnb. The properties will then be let out to locals instead of tourists for at least a year.

Like the Highlands in the UK, Sedona is atypical - it’s a desert city, very popular with tourists and inevitably with above-average housing costs and restrictions on new building.

Are these the short-termist models for the future - they offer no fundamental changes to ensure adequate housing supply in the long term, just incentives and disincentives to persuade the market to turn against Airbnb for a moment in time?

If there is to be action - interventions like these or more long-lasting ones - then it has to be soon. The Airbnb behemoth is gathering momentum thanks to inflation.

A survey by the platform itself recently claimed that 41 per cent of hosts in the US put their listing of properties down to a need to keep up with rising prices.

And in the US, which currently has 9.1 per cent annual inflation, the number of new hosts on Airbnb grew by over 50 per cent in the year to the end of June. In the UK, where inflation now exceeds 10 per cent, there was a 40 per cent spike in host numbers in the year to this summer.

Free marketeers have a point, of course, when they say that a person’s property should be theirs to do with as they wish. But is there a moment when that becomes a serious impediment to the freedom and dignity of others, unable to find appropriate and affordable accommodation nearby?

Has the rental sector become just a series of carrot-and-stick measures aimed at individuals rather than the proper strategic provision of affordable homes in sufficient numbers where people want them?

In other words is it easier for politicians to use public cash to cajole private individuals not to let on Airbnb, instead of using public cash to build enough homes in the first place?

Not for the first time, it looks as if politicians are choosing the short term option over the one that might just work. 

*Editor of Letting Agent Today and Landlord Today, Graham can be found tweeting about all things property at @PropertyJourn

  • Proper Estate Agent

    The more the gov harasses landlords, the more AirBNBs there will be , hardly quantum mechanics is it; but they don't learn.

  • icon

    Government (and local council) actions/intended actions are encouraging the growth of AirBNB's at the detriment of good quality rental accommodation
    Why cant they see it?


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