Emmet Kirwan has had enough of stags and hens. For the last two years, he and his neighbours in Temple Bar have been subjected to a steady stream of party groups staying in their apartment block, he says.
A company turned two apartments in their residential building into holiday apartments, which it rents out for short stays, he says. The visitors the company brings in are “causing social mayhem in the buildings”, says Kirwan.
He can’t understand why the authorities don’t seem interested in cracking down on the conversion of homes into short-term holiday lets. It contributes to the shortage of places in the city for Dubliners to live, after all, and it’s often done without planning permission, and therefore subject to council penalties.
A spokesperson from Dublin City Council says it’s investigating 40 complaints about short-term lettings that breach planning rules. But the threat of council enforcement action doesn’t seem to have sufficient teeth to deter the companies involved.
In March this year, 34 Fitzgibbon Street, just off Mountjoy Square, had already been converted into holiday apartments called City Studios and Apartments, run by Key Collection. This, despite the fact that the street is zoned Z1 “sustainable residential neighbourhoods“.
The planning permission approved in 1998 for the building was to convert eight bedsits into five apartments, all for “domestic use”. We couldn’t find in the city council planning database a change-of-use application to allow the building to be used for holiday lettings.
Since then, Key Collection has expanded its operations in Fitzgibbon Street. A spokesperson for the Department of Housing says Dublin City Council is taking action in relation to breaches of planning rules in Fitzgibbon Street.
The spokesperson also said the Department of Housing has established a working group “consisting of all the major public stakeholders with an interest in short-term letting”.
This group is supposed to report to Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy on the best way to regulate it, and whether legislation is needed to do that, he said.
The Story So Far
Declan O’Brien, a long-term resident of Temple Bar who used to chair the residents’ association, says they’ve been complaining to the council about short-term lets in residential units for years.
Back in May 2016, independent Councillor Mannix Flynn asked for a report on the issue of short-term lets. Much of the discussion was focused on Airbnb, in particular. In March 2017, the council’s housing committee heard a presentation on the issue that focused solely on Airbnb.
It was also in March that Workers’ Party Councillor Éilis Ryan spotted that the issue went well beyond Airbnb. She’d noticed that Key Collection and other companies were converting apartments into holiday lets without applying to the council for permission to convert them from residential use to commercial use.
At the time, councillors agreed to form a subcommittee – from members of the housing and planning committees – to look at the issue of regulating short-term lets. It seems, though, that they never did this.
Both Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan, chair of the housing committee, and Labour Councillor Andrew Montague, chair of planning committee, said they did not know why councillors hadn’t created the subcommittee and set to work on the issue.
A Dublin City Council spokesperson said it is pushing ahead with enforcement, investigating “approx. 40 complaints with a number of these complaints containing multiple units”.
In March, a Key Collection plaque was up on 34 Fitzgibbon Street.
Since then, three more blocks of residential apartments on that street – at 21, 22, and 35 Fitzgibbon Street – have been converted to holiday lets and all have Key Collection plaques up outside. Their planning permissions are for residential use.
Key Collection didn’t respond to two phone calls and two emails asking them to discuss their use of residential properties for short-term lets.
Sacreto Ltd trades as “Key Collection – Temple Bar Apartments”, and lists as directors Sheila O’Riordan from Meath and Cathriona Gillett from Dublin.
As well as short-term lets, Key Collection advertises rooms in well-known hotels, including Handel’s Hotel in Temple Bar and the Camden Hotel on Camden Street.
The council spokesperson declined to comment on whether Key Collection was under investigation, saying they don’t comment on individual cases.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said: “In relation to a number of properties on Fitzgibbon Street … Dublin City Council has indicated that it has opened enforcement cases.”
O’Brien, the former chair of the Temple Bar Residents’ Association, says enforcement isn’t working because the fines aren’t big enough to deter the holiday letting companies. They just pay the fines and keep expanding, he says.
That appears still to be happening. Last week, Key Collection’s trademark black doors and paintwork could be seen at residential units at 12 and 13 Gardiner Place, where construction work was underway. That’s just across Mountjoy Square from Fitzgibbon Street.
Another large residential apartment block used as holiday lets by Key Collection is the Ellis Quay Apartments, near Smithfield, which is advertised on their website.
There is no change-of-use application on record in the Dublin City Council online database to convert these properties on Gardiner Street and Ellis Quay from residential to commercial use.
O’Brien, of Temple Bar, and Murphy, of the Dorset Street area, both raised the issue of whether these businesses are avoiding commercial rates.
But it’s unclear whether they would even be liable to pay rates. “The issue of liability relating to rates has not been decided to date,” says a spokesperson for the council. It will form part of the working group’s discussions, she said.
O’Brien, who is a director of a property management company, also raised questions about the impact that converting a property from a long-term residence to a short-term let would have on insurance coverage and fire-safety compliance.
Dublin should introduce a system similar to San Francisco’s, where all short-term lets have to be registered with the authorities, with a maximum number of nights allowed per year, O’Brien suggests.
For now, the working group on the issue is considering the options. “The proposals under consideration aim to facilitate the short-term letting of accommodation within permanent residences (home-sharing) while protecting the existing stock of residential property in areas of high demand,” says the spokesperson for the Department of Housing.
The working group is supposed to report in the third quarter of 2017, he said. So by the end of this month, it seems.