Wednesday 22 November 2017

How Airbnb is 'breaking up communities' nationwide

Residents say they feel like victims in their own homes due to the increase in short-term holiday lets, writes Philip Ryan

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Stock picture
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Picture this: you've just bought your dream home. (Well, not your dream home. More of an overpriced property you can barely afford in a part of the city you initially turned your nose up at but eventually realised it was the only area within your budget.)

Nonetheless, it's your home. You can do it up over the years. Make it more homely, add your personality to the place. Make it into somewhere you'd be proud to invite family over for dinner or host parties for your friends. And, of course, make it into somewhere to raise a family.

You worked hard to save up for the deposit and you'll have to keep working hard to make the monthly mortgage payments. You bought the place in an area where you thought you'd get a good night's rest before you get up and work to make those payments.

Now imagine, every Friday or even Thursday night a gang of six to eight people arrive at the house or apartment next door. They all have hand luggage or overnight bags. You hear the clink of beer cans or gin bottles as one of the group struggles with the key in the front door. They all pile into the accommodation they booked online a few months earlier. They'll be there until Sunday at least, until Monday if it's a bank holiday. As soon as they are in the door, the music starts. The thudding bass vibrates off the wall in your living room and continues to do so for the next three days.

At around 3am, the group will come bundling back to the house or apartment after a night on the town. One might get sick in the garden, another might relieve themselves on the street - if you're really unlucky one might mistake your home for their leased accommodation and try their key in your door. The music comes back on. When they leave you breathe a sigh of relief - and count down the days until the next group arrives.

Niamh Hayes, who lives in Portobello in Dublin, knows all about this. Three of the nine houses on her street are operated as short-term leases.

Niamh believes websites like Airbnb will force people out of inner-city communities and "hollow out" Dublin.

"Every few days it's a new set of bags being dragged into the house - and you don't know what you're going to get. Most times it's fine, but other times they are drinking in the street and playing music till all hours," she said.

Then there's Dublin businessman Alan Austin, who lives in the Spencer Dock development near the Irish Financial Services Centre. Alan says he is a "victim in his own home" due to the rise of people illegally renting apartments as holiday lets. He has watched as groups have arrived in buses with buckets of Champagne and their own DJ.

Read More: 'Buy-to-flip' investors take punt on property

"Security tries to shut it down but sometimes the police have been called," he said.

Alan kicked up a fuss with his management company and managed to get a couple of the short-term leases in his apartment complex shut down. Guests are also now warned that their security fobs will be cancelled if they are found to be staying in a short-term lease.

This is increasingly the scenario experienced by homeowners and tenants dotted around our tourist hotspots. The rise of Airbnb and other online short-term leasing companies have become the bane of the lives of many local residents.

Independent online research company Inside Airbnb estimates that there are more than 6,500 short-term rental properties in Dublin advertised on Airbnb. Of these, some 3,165 are entire houses or apartments. That's more than 3,000 properties which could be used to help alleviate the housing and homeless crisis. An Airbnb spokesperson said the "data is wrong and uses flawed methodology to make false conclusions".

"The vast majority of Airbnb hosts are regular people who share their homes - typically their greatest expense - to boost their income and support their families. The Airbnb model is unique and empowers regular people, boosts local communities and contributes to the local tax take. It also makes Airbnb fundamentally different to companies that take large sums of money out of the places they do business," the spokeswoman added.

However, a report by Dublin City Council found 1,274 listings for 'entire homes or apartments' that are 'recently' and 'frequently booked' on Airbnb for the city area alone. The council estimated this equated to an average monthly income €2,255 per property. Do the sums.

Yes, some of the homes advertised online are being leased for a few months or weeks a year while the owner is out of the country or away on business. But there are a growing number of units being used as commercial properties.

The houses are not available to long-term tenants and are not subject to the Government's strict rental laws and rent caps - but are available to tourists all year round at commercial rates. Essentially property owners are letting homes on a commercial basis without being subjected to the normal rules and regulations applied to B&Bs or hotels.

Read More: 'Dublin's rental market is totally crazy and bad for mental health'

Local authorities have powers to move on property owners who are illegally letting. Enforcement officers can reprimand them for circumventing planning laws. But because short-term letting websites don't list the exact address for the properties being rented, it is near impossible to enforce. Officials cannot carry out stings on every house suspected to be illegally operating as a short-term let. And apartment complexes present even more difficulties.

As with many aspects of modern life, the problem lies in complications around policing tech companies taking advantage of the digital era.

Kevin Humphreys, Labour Senator for Dublin Bay South, has led the charge on seeking to regulate the growing short-term leasing industry in Dublin. He's heard all the horror stories from residents - and experienced some himself.

Not far from where he lives in Dublin 2, there is a street with nine houses available to lease online. An entire community has been transformed into a city-centre holiday resort.

Humphreys says the tech companies are "breaking up communities" in the city.

"We are in the middle of the worst housing crisis the country has ever faced but for some reason we are allowing thousands of houses to leak into the tourism industry," the Senator said. "It's about time that the Government started putting accommodating families ahead of accommodating tourists - though we also need to look after the homeowners who worked hard to buy their homes," he said.

Humphreys has been campaigning for change in this area for more than a year. He believes if this was any other industry, companies would have to take responsibility and follow strict laws.

At the very least, he wants companies like Airbnb to hold a register of the addresses of clients which can be accessed by local authorities. If this was the case, enforcement officers could monitor properties and ensure those being operated commercially were abiding by planning laws.

The Department of Housing has established a working group to investigate what can be done. It has met three times and is due to report to the minister by the end of the month. What can actually be done remains to the seen but many inner-city dwellers will be anxiously awaiting the group's findings.

Sunday Independent

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