Council to probe Airbnbs in Belfast after a 40% rise in internet lettings
Belfast City Council is conducting a review of Airbnb and student accommodation in the city.
It follows concern from councillors and experts over the growth of the lightly-regulated internet accommodation rental sector.
The BBC reported figures from analytics company Airdna that suggest a 40% increase in the number of Airbnb and HomeAway bookings in Northern Ireland over the last year.
South Belfast Alliance councillor Kate Nicholl said the dynamics of the sector needed to be better understood and regulated.
"We don't really know enough about the regulation of the sector and how we should be dealing with the phenomenon," she said.
Ms Nicholl said that, in south Belfast, former long-term private lets are being transformed into ultra-short-term Airbnb properties
She added: "I recognise that there are positives as well as negatives. Airbnbs are cheap, and easy to book - I've used them myself - but there are concerns as well, especially in areas where there are issues around about community cohesion.
"We also need to know the impact Airbnb has on our hotels, as well as on traditional B&Bs.
"That's why we've commissioned a report from the planners that will detail exactly where we are in the city, and how we can better regulate the sector.
"We seem to be doing okay here - but we need to explore whether we will soon need measures to cap the numbers of Airbnb, as has been done elsewhere."
Housing expert Professor Paddy Gray of Ulster University said he was concerned that properties which would previously have been rented out privately were now being used as short-term Airbnb lets - thus restricting the number of properties available for longer-term letting.
He said: "Short-term Airbnb letting restricts the amount of private rental accommodation available for people who cannot get access to social housing.
"They're often located in areas of high housing demand, and the private sector would often have been the only housing solution available for people who would have no chance of getting access to social housing."
Prof Gray said that across the world, authorities are moving to tighten control over the burgeoning Airbnb sector.
Airbnb said it "is built on the principles of making communities stronger and spreading tourism benefits to local families and businesses".
HomeAway said it takes its responsibility of "keeping the balance" between offering holiday homes and its effect on communities "very seriously", and its services provide "undeniable benefits to communities" by generating revenue.