In Brief

How an ‘Airbnb exodus’ could create UK ghost towns

Analysis suggest a surge in listings is hollowing out communities

Inner-city communities are at risk of becoming ghost towns as a result of a surge in the number of rooms put up to let on Airbnb - and the resulting exodus of local residents.

An analysis of data carried out by the BBC suggests the number of rooms or homes listed in London has increased fourfold since 2015 to nearly 80,000. In Edinburgh, listings have doubled in three years to an average of just over 12,000, which represents a greater proportion of the city’s population - one listing for every 42 residents - than in London.

Airbnb has emerged as one of the world’s most successful Silicon Valley start-ups. It now operates in 191 countries, attracting homeowners looking to make a bit of extra money and tourists looking for an alternative to hotels.

However, it has also drawn sharp criticism from housing groups and its effect on local communities.

The BBC says “concerns have been raised that landlords have shifted from offering long-term tenancies to these short-term lettings, restricting supply for people who want to live and work in these cities and putting up the cost of rent as a result”.

Barcelona has become a case study for the negative effects of Airbnb. One and a half million visitors stay in the city’s Airbnbs each year, and although five times as many book rooms in traditional hotels, “the company is influencing what the city feels like, especially for permanent residents”, says The New Yorker.

“The conceit of friendly locals renting out spare rooms has been supplanted by a more mercenary model,” it says, “in which centuries-old apartment buildings are hollowed out with ersatz hotel rooms.”

Many properties have been bought specifically as short-term-rental investments, managed by agencies that have dozens of such properties.

In the UK, nearly half of listings come from hosts with more than one property, and in London, 24% of listings are by hosts with five or more sites.

“Short-term lets are having a terrible impact” says SNP councillor Kate Campbell, housing convenor at City of Edinburgh Council. “They are hollowing out communities, both in the city centre and increasingly across Edinburgh. Residents are putting up with high levels of anti-social behaviour and, very worryingly for us, we believe there is a huge impact on housing supply.”

In London, legislation setting a 90-day-per-year limit for short-term lets of whole homes has been in operation since 2015. However, local councils say the rule is often flouted and even the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has admitted the law was “near-impossible for councils to enforce”.

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