Council Report Tries to Spot Businesses among Airbnb Hosts

A Dublin City Council report has found that 45 percent of properties listed on Airbnb in its area were “multi-listings” – in other words, the host was advertising more than one property.

“Hosts with multiple listings are unlikely to be living in the property and may be engaged in running a short-term rental business,” the report says.

That’s disputed by Airbnb spokesperson Simon Letouze.

“Hosts who have multiple listings are not necessarily sharing multiple properties,” he said, by email. “A number of hosts share multiple rooms within their homes and the entire place when they are out of town. Others manage the listing process on behalf of others.”

Presented to the council’s housing committee last Friday, the report used data gathered from the website Inside Airbnb, which “scrapes” data from Airbnb.

Titled “Preliminary data on Airbnb in Dublin City for February 2017”, an “Overview report for members of DCC Housing SPC”, it’s credited to council official Dáithí Downey.

This is the latest entry into the debate over whether or not Airbnb contributes to the housing shortage in the city, and, if so, what could or should be done about it.

The council’s housing committee is planning to join up with its planning and economic development committees to form a working group to tackle the issue.

Meanwhile, the Department of Housing is putting together a working group of all relevant agencies to tackle the issue, according to a council spokesperson.

But the issue is bigger than Airbnb, says Workers’ Party Councillor Eilis Ryan.

She wants to see all short-term rentals regulated, and as she believes their prevalence in areas that are zoned for residential accommodation is contributing to the housing crisis.

“I think it would be easy to enforce the planning laws in relation to the big operators as all of the information is publicly available” on Airbnb and other websites, she says.

The Figures

Airbnb issued its own report in January, based on self-reporting by its hosts. That one says that 88 percent of hosts on Airbnb are renting out their own primary residence.

“That doesn’t necessarily fit with the data we have just looked at, so I think there are some anomalies to be looked at,” said Downey, who is head of policy, research and development at the council’s Housing and Community Services Department, at Friday’s meeting.

But these two figures are not mutually exclusive.

Airbnb says 12 percent of its hosts rent out multiple properties, and the council says 45 percent of properties listed are rented by persons with multiple properties. So, if 12 percent of hosts have multiple properties, they could account for 45 percent of properties.

The council’s new report found 5,377 listings in the Dublin City Council area, 2,948 of which it classed as “single listings” and 2,429 of which it classed as “multi-listings”.

It also found that a quarter (1,274) of the city listings were for entire homes/apartments that were “recently” and “frequently” available. “Listings for this category are booked for an estimated average of 205 nights per year”, it found.

Some 569 of the properties were entire homes rented out by a host with multiple listings, and were also identified as being recently and frequently booked with a high level of availability.

The council’s report notes that its figures aren’t verified by Airbnb.

Letouze of Airbnb says that the figures aren’t right. “This report uses inaccurate data to make misleading assumptions about the Airbnb community,” he said.

“Hosts in Dublin are typically regular people who share their homes for around four days a month – they are not typically businesses or professionals.”

Big Business?

According to Airbnb’s report, their hosts in the Dublin City Council area made €46 million from Airbnb last year.

Letouze says that the typical host in Ireland earns €4,900 by sharing their space for 50 nights a year. “Almost 90 percent of hosts in Dublin say they share their primary residence and more than half say they rely on the additional income to help make ends meet,” he said.

He said that Airbnb has met with the chief executive of Dublin City Council, and welcomes discussions on home-sharing rules in the city.

“We are making good progress in our discussions with policymakers. We want to be good partners to Dublin and work together to support local families who share their homes,” he said.

The council’s report found that the largest suppliers of Airbnb properties in Dublin are a host called “Brian” and something named as “CANBE Ltd (Superior Hospitality)”, each of which had 28 properties listed for rent through Airbnb.

Eoin Garry, manager of CANBE Superior Hospitality, says his organisation has planning permission for its purpose-built self-catering apartments, and is not in breach of any regulations.

“Most of our bookings would be through the likes of Bookings.com and Hotels.com,” he says. “For us it is just another source of advertising to our target market.”

Some have argued that Airbnb rentals could be contributing to the housing shortage.

Simon Brooke, head of policy at Clúid, has said that it could be a problem if a significant proportion of accommodation that would normally be used for private rented accommodation were used for Airbnb.

Bringing Airbnb properties back into the mainstream private rented sector could have some, however small, effect on easing the shortage of housing in the city, Lorcan Sirr, a lecturer in housing studies at DIT, has said.

But Garry of CANBE says his business is not contributing to the shortage of in the mainstream rental market, as its apartments were purpose-built for short-term letting: they were never going to be used for long-term living.

Call for a Crackdown

Councillor Ryan wants all short-term lettings looked at. She says she has identified commercial operations in the north inner city that have not applied for the the appropriate planning permission. (We were unable to verify this.) 

“They are effectively being let as commercial hotels, but because they are being called ‘self-catering apartments’ they haven’t gone through the change of use” from residential, she says.

This is disappointing in an area with a massive demand for housing, says Ryan.

Ryan also wants to look at people renting out rooms in their house on Airbnb. She understands that people might be doing this in order to make their rent or mortgage payment but says it’s a vicious cycle.

Landlords are driving up rents, knowing that the difference can be made up by Airbnb, she says. “It might be more appropriate to bring in a rent cap in line with inflation to prevent this being necessary.”

(The current cap on rent increases of 4 percent per year  is too far above inflation, she says.)

Existing Regulations

Labour Councillor Andrew Montague, who chairs the council’s planning committee, says that if people are operating Airbnb businesses, rather than just renting out their own home occasionally, that requires planning permission.

But Dublin City Council’s Planning Enforcement section are very stretched for resources, Montague said. “They would need a steer from the public,” he says.

Neighbours in apartment blocks should complain to the council, says Montague. A constant stream of guests with access to keys and fobs are reducing security in their buildings, he says.

If a breach of planning “is brought to or comes to the attention of the Planning Authority, then the matter will be investigated and enforcement proceedings will be initiated”, said a  spokesperson from the council’s press office.

Councillor Ryan says she cannot understand why planning enforcement aren’t doing more to target large commercial operators that are running holiday lettings without the appropriate planning permission.

“They are running a commercial business illegally, they are not applying for planning, not paying commercial rates, not providing the amenities that other businesses have to,” she says.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at laoiseneylon@gmail.com.

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