Time for legislation to tackle Airbnb problems

De Facto

TACKLING THE PROBLEM Other popular tourist destinations like Barcelona wants to permanently ban landlords from renting out private rooms for short-term stays. Pic: istock

De Facto
Liamy MacNally

Several people contacted me about the most recent article in this column highlighting disquiet over Airbnb in Westport. It seems the issue is of concern further afield, most notably Louisburgh, Newport and Achill.
While sharing homes on Airbnb is totally acceptable, it is the buying up of residential properties for Airbnb use that is the problem. This causes the breakdown of the social fabric in an area by breaking up local communities and changing their ethos.
Apart from community breakdown and changing an area’s social fabric, Airbnb as currently configured, whereby a person can buy up a residential property and use it without any regulation, is also increasing house prices. This is turn impacts negatively on local young people who are unable to buy homes locally. So the next generation is also affected, which has a huge social impact on an area.
In an era of unprecedented lack of suitable housing in this country, and a huge waiting list for housing, buying up property for Airbnb use only adds to the homelessness problem. Not to regulate this side of the ‘property market’ is quite simply insane. The virus that has seen homes being treated as part of a property portfolio is one that has been nurtured by the major political parties, most especially Fine Gael.    
Several upsetting, unsettling and disgusting stories have been shared about living alongside Airbnb properties since the last article. This impacts hugely on the quality of life of decent citizens of Westport and other areas affected by this phenomenon. Another difficulty is that many of these Airbnb owners do not even live in the locality. When challenged about unsocial behaviour they fob off locals.
The difficulty is simple – too many Irish property owners are either politicians or politically connected people. This means there is no appetite for new laws and less of an appetite to implement existing regulations. Money becomes the axis on which decisions are made, not the care of and protection of a local community.

Widespread problem
The problem is also being experienced in many tourism cities like Barcelona and Venice. Barcelona wants to permanently ban landlords from renting out private rooms for short-term stays. A proposed regulation would allow people to rent rooms in their own home only for stays of 30 days or more.
At present municipal authorities in Barcelona (and elsewhere in Catalonia) insist ‘short-term property owners must apply to have their property approved and categorised as a ‘tourist household’. This categorisation is necessary if you are offering rentals for less than 31 days.”
Owners must request a certificate of occupancy; property registration; inspection and approval of the property by the municipal authority; make a property declaration as to intended tourist use; display an up-to-date registration on the short-term property rental; register contact information, including passport number and duration of stay, for all visitors to the property. The homeowner must also provide an emergency contact number and official complaint sheets must also be available for guests.
The difficulty in Ireland is that political party members are so enmeshed in residential property ownership for financial gain. Residential homes are fair game.
Last week, The Journal reported: “The proportion of newly built homes bought by institutions has increased from 5.6 percent in 2010 to almost a third in 2019, a report has found. It marks a six-fold increase in the last decade, the research shows. The National Social Monitor, by think tank Social Justice Ireland (SJI), has questioned the ability of the State to deliver affordable housing when families are increasingly crowded out of the market by private bodies.”
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are now honeymooning bedfellows. Legislation supporting residential living is needed to protect local communities. After stripping local communities of town councils, Fine Gael has a lot of making up to do when it comes to rebalancing the democratic deficit. It can happen if Fianna Fáil finds its voice.
While blessed with hardworking local politicians we need them to go the extra mile. Apart from restoring local town councils with proper legislative supports, we need to ensure the social fabric of our towns and villages is properly protected. That would be a worthwhile legacy for politicians.