Airbnb faces calls for stricter enforcement of short-term rental rules in Ireland

Real Estate

View of Ha’penny bridge on bright sunny day in Dublin, Ireland.

Stricter enforcement on Airbnb and short-term lettings in the Republic of Ireland are needed to protect the housing and rental market. 

That’s according to housing activists and opposition politicians that believe regulations introduced last year need to be bolstered ahead of the difficult months and years ahead for the economy.

Last July, regulations around short-term rentals came into effect with a “one host, one home” model that is enforced by local planning authorities.

Eoin O’Broin, a member of parliament and housing spokesperson for Sinn Féin, the main opposition party, told CNBC that the regulations are sound but fall down when it comes to enforcement as the planning system is a “very slow and laborious process.”

For Airbnb hosts renting out a room in the home that they themselves live in, there was little change.

However, for people renting out second homes, holiday homes and other properties that aren’t their primary residence, they are required to obtain a “change of use” planning approval from their local authority. The regulations were introduced to encourage more properties back onto the long-term market. Rising rent costs in cities like Dublin have been a difficult policy issue as the average rent in the capital has risen to 1,709 euros ($2,010), compared to 1,252 euros in the same quarter five years ago.

However there has been a low number of short-term let planning applications filed with authorities despite the number of listings remaining high, as hosts avoid the lengthy application process.

“We always knew the regulations, even if they were good, would fall foul of weak enforcement if it was left to the local authorities. That’s not a criticism of the councils, it’s just the nature of planning enforcement,” O’Broin said.

Ireland’s Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government said in a statement that there is a commitment in the program for the government to “strengthen the regulatory and enforcement mechanisms.”

“Around 2.5 million (euros) has been allocated to Local Authorities for enforcement of the short-term letting provisions up to the end of 2021. It is envisaged that targeted enforcement regimes will be stepped-up as dedicated resources continue to increase on a national level,” the department said.

Fines 

O’Broin is in favor of fining platforms and estate agents for allowing non-compliant property listings rather than pursuing the individual hosts. Under such rules, a platform or estate agent would be required to see proof from the users that they have the necessary approval to list their property. 

If not, a platform would be “spot fined every day that they advertise a non-compliant property,” O’Broin proposed.

“Airbnb has worked with hundreds of governments and organizations globally to help hosts share their homes, follow the rules and pay tax, and we want to be equally good partners in Ireland. We have always looked to work collaboratively with Ireland to make its home sharing rules work,” an Airbnb spokesperson said in a statement.

 ”Since the regulations were announced, we promoted the rules to hosts and sought to work with all levels of government to boost awareness and compliance. We look forward to contributing innovative ideas for the future of home sharing in Ireland and suggestions for tourism revival along with our colleagues in the sector.”

John-Mark McCafferty, chief executive of housing charity Threshold, agrees that there is more to be done on enforcement.

He believes that while some properties that are usually listed on short-term platforms have returned to the long-term market, it hasn’t happened in a substantial way.  

“(In) Dublin, there’s some change but it’s not hugely significant. It’s still a very challenging rental market for private tenants. Rents are still high, it’s not like they’ve collapsed or even significantly reduced.”

Housing

Housing, rent increases and homelessness have been hot button issues among Irish politics for some time. 

In August, figures from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government showed that there are just over 8,700 people in emergency accommodation. This marks a slight downward trend from previous months as measures against evictions and rent increases were introduced during the coronavirus lockdowns.

As the government’s budget approaches in October, housing charities and activists are calling for more support to keep numbers down as the country faces an economic downturn.

Threshold, in its pre-budget submission to the government, called for several measures. It is seeking a 20 million euro ($23.4 million) rent arrears fund to assist people in financial strains stemming from the pandemic, more resources for local authorities to build homes and the re-introduction of a moratorium on evictions and rent increases, which had expired in August.

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