You’ve got to ask what’s going on when there are more and more homeless families living in hotels, and more and more tourists staying in entire houses and apartments on their visits.
At least, that’s the case if you are Germany’s capital city. Or independent Dublin city councillor Mannix Flynn.
Earlier this month, Flynn asked city council officials to draw up a report on Airbnb in Dublin.
“It seems to have an enormous impact on the number of apartments to rent out there,” he said at the council’s Housing Strategic Policy Committee.
“It seems that hoteliers are hoovering up a huge amount of apartments and keeping them in a basic culture of Airbnb. And therefore the people on our streets – and not just the homeless – can’t avail of these,” he said.
An Airbnb spokesperson said the “vast majority” of Airbnb listings in Dublin are people renting out their own homes, which earns them a bit of extra cash to help pay their rent, and doesn’t reduce the number of apartments available for long-term rental.
But Berlin saw Airbnb as exacerbating its housing shortage, and brought in rules to restrict it, Flynn pointed out.
In the German capital, owners can’t rent out entire apartments or houses on Airbnb without a permit. Those are tough to come by, because local tenants are in need of more rental properties.
As a result of the new regime, Airbnb’s lettings in the city almost halved, he says.
Flynn asked for a full report on what Dublin City Council intends to do about the situation here. It is, he said, “a free-for-all”.
Berlin’s move to crack down was well-publicised, but it wasn’t not the first city to do so. It follows in the footsteps of European cities Paris and Amsterdam, as well as American cities San Francisco and Santa Monica.
In Ireland, there haven’t yet been similar measures – or research to look at whether Airbnb is causing any problems here. But as the number of Dublin listings on Airbnb grows, it might soon become a concern.
In a press release sent out last month, Airbnb said that it is likely to grow along with the number of visitors to Ireland, and it encouraged more households to open their homes to guests.
As it is, the number of Irish hosts offering up places to stay has more than doubled every year since 2010.
The company’s latest figures show that Airbnb stays in Ireland increased 187 percent between April of last year and April of this year. And Dublin, the most popular spot in the country for Airbnb guests, hosted 240,000 visitors last year.
Airbnb says it had 4,700 listings in Dublin last month, an increase of more than 1,000 since January.
So how many of these properties are entire dwellings, apartments or houses that could house permanent residents at a time when Dublin’s housing stock is inadequate to meet demand?
Quite a lot of them, according to Inside Airbnb, an independent data project that draws statistics and information from the Airbnb website to highlight the make-up of Airbnb properties around the world.
As of January, of the 3,117 properties listed in Dublin city, 47.1 percent – or 1,469 – were entire homes or apartments, Inside Airbnb’s statistics show. (Airbnb didn’t provide these figures when asked.)
Inside Airbnb’s figures also highlight that well over a third of the city’s hosts have multiple listings.
In Temple Bar
The secretary of the Temple Bar Residents Association, Declan O’Brien, says he has seen an increase in Airbnb rentals around his city-centre residence.
It’s not just Airbnb rentals that can be seen around the place though. Hotels are getting in on the action too, by buying up apartments and letting them out to tourists directly.
“We’re not able to ascertain clearly how many large hotels are now in the business of Airbnb or in the business of acquiring apartments in apartment complexes,” says Flynn.
The Temple Bar Residents Association have received quite a few emails from residents in apartment blocks who have noticed people coming and going instead of steady neighbours, says O’Brien.
And Flynn says some in Temple Bar, and other areas, have sought his advice, wondering what to do when one or two apartments in a complex are rented out.
Whether it’s a stag party or pub crawlers, people who are just passing through an apartment complex often don’t have the same respect for it as permanent residents do, he says.
Most residents didn’t realise neighbouring apartments were being let out to tourists until they started having problems, he says.
“And who do you ring?” he asks. “In a hotel, reception will deal with it – but not in an apartment.”
The Home-Hotel Question
Flynn believes some of these lettings may breach planning laws.
O’Brien says some short-term listings received the correct planning permission, like the Staycity Aparthotel on the Millennium Walk, but doubts that others have.
“Like these ones where you’re getting a single apartment in an otherwise residential block,” he says.
Lorcan Sirr, a lecturer in housing studies at DIT, says renting a room in your house poses no problems. “But renting out the entire property is a whole different thing,” he adds.
If this is the case, Sirr says you need planning permission to change the property from residential use to commercial use.
“You can’t just turn your house into a shop or a hotel without planning permission,” he says. But this is what people are doing.
“I just don’t know why these rules wouldn’t apply to Airbnb. You’re providing a commercial accommodation service, surely the rules that apply to other commercial accommodation services should apply to Airbnb,” says Sirr.
O’Brien points to an old court case from 1996. In that case, which looked at holiday lettings, it was decided that, yes, if you’re going to turn a residential home into a holiday home or short-term letting, then you need planning permission.
Things can get a bit tricky if people argue that a place is only let on weekends and is a home the rest of the time, says Sirr, but that’s something that planning authorities should decide.
Is It Hurting Housing?
“There’s also the idea that you’re taking valuable housing stock,” says Sirr.
He says that if these Airbnb rentals were to go back to the mainstream private rented sector, those in emergency accommodation probably couldn’t afford them. But it would have some, however small, effect on the shortage of rental stock.
As of Tuesday 17 May on Daft.ie, there were just 1,322 properties to let in Dublin. So it seems like adding another 3,117 properties would ease the shortage, though it should be noted that some of those properties might just be up for rent while their long-term residents are away for a weekend or a holiday.
Simon Brooke, head of policy at Clúid, says the voluntary housing body hasn’t looked into the effects of Airbnb on the city’s housing situation. But he says it could be a problem if a significant proportion of accommodation that would normally be used for private rented accommodation were used for Airbnb – like it was in Berlin.
If it’s not a sustainable level, and it interferes with the market, he would suggest following Berlin’s lead.
“The vast majority of Airbnb listings in Berlin are local residents’ homes,” says a spokesperson for Airbnb. And this is also the case for Dublin, she adds.
Taking these properties off Airbnb wouldn’t mean they would be made available to rent long-term, because people are already living in them long-term.
Also, the extra income that locals earn through Airbnb is important for them and helps them stay in their homes, she said. In Ireland, an average Airbnb host earns €2,600 per year by sharing their home, she said.
“[Hosts] aren’t taking houses off the market, they are sharing their homes and the cities they love, and using the additional income to help pay the bills,” she said.
Flynn doesn’t dispute that, he says. The home-sharing side of the Airbnb is positive, but it’s when entire houses are given over for short-term rent that it becomes problematic, he said.
“Like in Berlin, there’s a huge social consequence for it,” he says. “I just think for everyone’s sake this needs to be regulated.”