An unauthorised laundrette set up to service dozens of short term let apartments without permission has been shut down by council officials – amid calls for “game changing” licensing powers to curb Airbnb-style properties.
Council officers have dealt with 294 enforcement cases for properties operating as short term lets without permission. Council bosses say that dealing with the estimated 12,000 short term let properties in the city through planning enforcement is costly and time-consuming.
In the city centre, more rental properties are now available as short term lets than for traditional private rented sector housing.
In March, the council’s planning enforcement team uncovered around 40 short term lets properties were operating in the Newhaven area, believed to be in flats close to Western Harbour, without permission – “including two complete stairs” full of them.
Residents had faced “significant disruption”, including anti-social behaviour, requiring police to be called. Investigations revealed that a short stay letting agent, an established holiday let apartment business and commercial laundry company servicing the apartments were operating in some of the buildings.
In April, 11 key safes were removed from a listed building in the Grassmarket area – a decision that was upheld when appeal to the Scottish Government reporter.
Overall, 226 planning enforcement cases have been dealt with – along with 41 private rented sector enforcement and trading standards cases. There have also been 22 family, household and support cases and five cases from environmental health.
The Scottish Government is asking residents for opinions on the impact of short term lets and could potentially bring forward permission for a licensing regime to allow local authorities to regulate the trade.
Housing, fair work and homelessness convener, Cllr Kate Campbell, said: “These cases show how far out of control the situation has got. The fact that we have properties being used in this way, with whole stairs being taken out of residential supply including for a home to be used as a commercial laundry, absolutely crystallises the need for further powers.
“The statistics show we’ve dramatically increased resources – carrying out almost the same amount of enforcement cases in six months as we did the entire previous year. We’ve added tools to the kit, using letters as a deterrent and taking a strong stance on key safes. All of this is useful and we will keep up the pressure.”
She added: “But the cross-party short term lets working group unanimously agreed that planning enforcement won’t ever give us the controls we need because it is too resource intensive, clunky and slow. We all agreed that a licensing regime would be absolutely game-changing. We’ve made representations to the Scottish Government and now we have a consultation on legislative change to give us those tools.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is that everyone in Edinburgh who feels strongly about the impact of short term lets on our city, and particularly on housing supply and the affordability of homes, takes part and makes it clear that we need the power to introduce a licensing regime so that we can protect homes and communities for residents.”
Green city centre Cllr Claire Miller questioned whether the statistics show “the scale and extent of the problem” and questioned whether the council needs to take a “more pro-active approach”.
Conservative group leader Cllr Iain Whyte said: “Ultimately it’s the owner of the property and what they are doing where we want to look.
“Around the chamber, we all support proportionate regulation of use of properties and we have to work through that.”