Homeless charity wants crackdown on Airbnb

A local homeless charity has called for a tightening of the regulations around Airbnb with over 2,000 Galway homes being let to visitors – half of them entire homes and over a third on a full-time basis according to an analysis of listings.

Cope Galway said it firmly believed that Airbnb – the giant online service allowing people to lease or rent short-term lodging – was contributing to the homelessness crisis.

In the same week that just 118 homes in all of Galway were advertised for rent on the website daft.ie, there were a total of 2,212 active Airbnb rentals across Galway City and County.

Of these, 52% were the full properties and 38% were being let full-time, according to data collated by AirDNA, which analyses public information about Airbnb’s listings.

Cope Galway’s assistant CEO, Martin O’Connor, said the data shows the heaviest concentration of properties was in the city and in tourist hotspots such as Connemara.

“In 2017 the number of hosts renting on Airbnb started to climb massively. Anecdotally we’re hearing of blocks of apartments in the city being rented on Airbnb and people setting up a business,” he remarked.

“These are properties that were given planning permission as residential not as accommodation providers such as hotels or B&Bs which must comply with fire regulations.

“You have the ironic situation of tourists living in homes while people without homes are having to live in B&Bs and hotels.

“The introduction of measures to disincentivise the full-time use of homes for Airbnb purposes and the enforcement of planning laws already on the statute books are measures the government can take now.

“While we understand that revenue from Airbnb is an important source of income for struggling homeowners, our concern is that accommodation which is available all year round and in the form of entire homes, is accommodation taken out of the rental market.”

There were 259 people classed as homeless in Galway on the fourth week of March according to the latest available figures from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

This does not include the numbers of rough sleepers who engage with Cope Galway – currently between ten and twelve a night – or the ‘hidden homeless’ who couch-surf with friends and family.

Airbnb disputes the accuracy of the data, claiming entire home listings in Galway last year represented just 0.7% of the available housing stock.

“This report uses inaccurate scraped data to make misleading assumptions about our community. The vast majority (70%) of hosts in Ireland share the home in which they live. The Airbnb model is unique and empowers regular people and boosts local communities, generating over €506 million in economic activity in Ireland last year,” said a spokesperson.

In Galway last year, the typical host on Airbnb earned €5,100 and hosted for less than 4 nights per month – showing that it is only occasional activity

“Many individual hosts are not able to manage their own listing, for example when they are away on holiday or at work, so they ask a management company to take care of bookings on their behalf. In data scrapes, these would show as one individual with multiple listings, when in reality these listings belong to many different hosts. Similarly, a host may manage both their own listing and the listing of a neighbour or friend.

“The platform also has some licensed boutique hotels and serviced apartments listing their spaces, as the platform offers them the opportunity to reach a wider and more diverse audience than traditional offline advertisements. Many of these are listed as entire homes.”

In London, hosts cannot rent out entire homes for more than 90 days per year without official consent from their council. In Paris, registration for short-term lettings is now mandatory and must be no longer than 120 days a year; Barcelona has suspended all new short-term rental permits; Amsterdam has cut its permitted short-term lettings limit from two months a year to one; and hosts in Berlin are only permitted to rent out their property for half of the year.

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy is overdue in publishing a report by a departmental working group examining whether new regulations are needed for lettings websites.

An Bord Pleanála ruled in 2016 that using residential apartments for short-term lets was a “change of use” and required planning permission.

Following the ruling, the government issued guidelines to councils last year limiting apartment owners to letting their property in the short term for 60 nights in a year.

The guidelines said flat owners could not rent flats for more than five nights in a row and no more than two rooms in an apartment can be occupied each night, with a guest limit of four people a night.

Martin O’Connor said it was clear from the Galway data these guidelines were not being enforced.

“The number of properties continuously in Airbnb use shows they’re certainly not in compliance with department guidelines. For us, really, the issue is the acute shortage of accommodation here while there is an extraordinarily high number of Airbnbs.”