Wednesday 21 February 2018

It's simple, Simon: Airbnb greed or generation bunk bed

Donal Lynch thought of Airbnb as one of life's modern conveniences, until he experienced first hand its role in the housing crisis

Danger: Dublin risks losing its soul Photo: Depositphotos
Danger: Dublin risks losing its soul Photo: Depositphotos
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

You would have to have some empathy for Housing Minister Simon Coveney when he admitted last week that he still doesn't fully understand what the role of Airbnb should be in the economy. It's a confusing proposition after all; a multinational tech firm - our supposed saviours - mixed up in a dystopian rental nightmare. The State has rich form in attempting to solve clashes of values like these in such a way that the multinational wins every time. But the Airbnb situation feels somewhat unique. Unlike, say, the Apple tax, the connection between our national infrastructure and the company's activities is concrete and direct. The whiff of Airbnb's money has caught the attention of Dublin landlords and in at least one instance which I have witnessed served as grounds for an attempted termination of a lease. The situation with the company has also fed into the housing crisis and placed the Government at a crossroads.

In some ways I sympathise with those landlords. I was not immune to the lovely whiff of Airbnb's money. I bought an apartment on Pearse Street at the height of the Celtic Tiger and over the following years the slow transformation of the Grand Canal area into a multinational hub pushed rents through the roof. Airbnb took centre stage in this regeneration. The knowledge that my shoebox was now rental gold seemed like some compensation for the massive mortgage I was lumbered with. And the tech companies with their bars and hip young employees seemed like progress from the industrial wasteland the place was 15 years ago. I also used Airbnb when I travelled, grateful that it had rescued me from the sterility and expense of hotel rooms.

My attitude to Airbnb changed abruptly when I saw in real time the misery it can cause. Over the last few years, my boyfriend, Colm, rented an apartment, with a flatmate, in a different part of the city centre. A few months into the last lease, both he and the then-flatmate received letters from the landlord telling them that he was terminating the lease, in part to turn the apartment into an Airbnb property. There had been numerous articles in the press during that period detailing the vast sums that could be made on Airbnb in the city centre. The landlord was apparently determined to get a slice of this new revenue stream.

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