The Scottish Government's consultation on regulation short-term lets, and the Society's response
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.
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.
The Scottish sector is largely unregulated, and the issues arising 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, such lets have 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, with such use of a property becoming a material change of use.
At the outset, there must be a definition of “short-term lets”. The consultation suggested that these should include accommodation made available for a cumulative period of 28 days or more in any rolling period of 365 days. It also looked at:
- the variations in the short-term lets market, such as “sharing”, “swapping” and “secondary lets”;
- the need to distinguish between small-scale and commercial hosts, and different types of property; and
- associated problems with fire safety, antisocial 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.
Our response noted that there appears to be a lack of robust data on the numbers and location of the short-term lets market in Scotland. We call for a strong evidence-based approach to support any new form of regulation and highlight the need to avoid over-regulation. While the regulation of short-term lets within the planning context may be a desirable approach, we recognise it 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.
To read the full response, see www.lawscot.org.uk/research-and-policy/
Alison McNab and Gillian Mawdsley, Policy team, the Law Society of Scotland