Belfast Telegraph

View from Dublin: regulation of Airbnb needed amid rental woes

By Richard Curran

Airbnb is one of the original disruptors. It basically disrupted the hotel and professional hospitality industry by providing a cheaper alternative, using the so-called sharing economy.

It was never the intention of the business to be a disruptor of the housing market - the 'roof over our heads' market.

The extent to which it may be doing that is something the government will have to decide on in the coming months.

Daft.ie said during the week, there were just 1,258 properties available in Dublin for long-term renting.

Yet, according to the monitoring website Inside Airbnb, the stock of properties to let on Airbnb from professional listers, and not those just temporarily sharing their home, was 1,419.

The figures suggest that 53% of the homes available to rent in the Dublin market are not available as places to live for people in need of a long-term rental property.

Airbnb fired back, refuting the figures, by saying it represented a scraping of data, and that entire home listings on Airbnb in Dublin last year represented just 1.1% of the available housing stock.

Not every home available for rent is up on Daft.ie. Nevertheless, the figures provide a useful snapshot in time of the dysfunctional housing market in the capital city.

Airbnb claims you would have to rent out a typical Dublin property for well over 120 nights per year in order to make it financially worth your while.

It says it had just 550 properties in 2016 that were booked out for more than 160 nights.

If that is the case, then why are there so many professional listings out there? There are already a number of restrictions in place for use of apartments as Airbnb rentals, including the need for planning permission for change of use and the number of rooms that can be rented out in a particular apartment.

But what level of local authority resources is going into policing this? Given the fact that unregulated rental properties run by unscrupulous landlords, with up to 50 long-term residents in one house, have slipped under the radar, it is hard to imagine there is an army of Dublin City Council inspectors all over these changes of use, or monitoring the number of nights rooms are vacant or full.

The bottom line here is that Airbnb is a great business idea that has made a significant contribution to the tourism industry in Dublin and in many cities around the world. The second point is that our rental market in Dublin is utterly dysfunctional.

Airbnb needs to be regulated when it comes to professional hosts who have apartments being used exclusively for that purpose.

The Daft figures - although disputed by Airbnb, if but not all that convincingly - point to a material negative impact on the regular rental market.

Let Airbnb disrupt the hotel sector in a Dublin that has now become notorious for price-gouging, especially on nights where demand for rooms is high.

It shouldn't affect the ability of people to get a home to live in.

The problem is all about inspection and regulation.

The rules that are already there are meaningless unless they are enforced and the necessary resources are put in place to do that.

One option is to introduce more restrictions on professional Airbnb hosting in Dublin, where rooms could only be rented out for a certain number of nights per year.

This might make it less attractive for professional short-term lettings.

However, these rules, if introduced, will have no impact unless they are policed. The cost of inspection and regulation could be quite high. And somebody will have to pay for it.

Airbnb is not to blame for Dublin's housing and rental crisis. But it should stick to its original concept of the sharing economy. Any move by government to achieve this has to be enforced.

Belfast Telegraph

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