Short term holiday lets: what can I do?

Councillor Ben Parker looks at the role of citizens in ensuring effective regulation of STLs.

Greens have long campaigned for the effective regulation of short term lets (STLs), or holiday lets.  STLs can make life miserable for neighbours if they’re badly managed and can also contribute to spiralling rents if they take homes away from the housing stock.

In Edinburgh, we now have an STL control area, meaning new businesses need to apply for planning permission, and a licensing scheme which regulates the management of STLs. But the council has recently been subject to two judicial reviews from the industry, which have increased the workload for licensing and planning officers and will increase the time it takes for the council to process STL applications. And despite efforts from Green councillors to tighten these schemes and introduce proactive enforcement, there is still a vital role for citizens to ensure STLs are effectively regulated. 

So, what can individuals do? This can be summarised as, firstly, responding to planning applications, secondly, objecting to licence applications, and finally, reporting unregulated STLs to the council for enforcement.

Let’s look at these in turn: 

Commenting on STL planning applications 

Generally speaking, the planning system deals with the use of land or property, while the licensing system deals with management and safety issues. If there is a planning application within 20 metres of your home, you should receive a ‘neighbour notification’ through the post. You can also sign up to be notified of new planning applications on the Edinburgh Planning Portal. You can also see if there are any applications near you by entering your street into the planning portal.

In commenting on STL planning applications, the most important questions to consider are, firstly, does it lead to a loss of amenity for neighbours, and secondly, does it lead to a loss of housing? If the application is likely to increase noise or disturbance, or make residents feel less safe in their homes, that could constitute a loss of amenity. If the property was previously residential, that may be a loss of housing. 

If you feel that either of these are relevant to the application, then make this clear when making your comment. If you are objecting to the application, then start your comments with “I wish to object to this application” and explain why. 

It is usually best to object using the ‘comments’ section of the council’s planning portal for the specific STL application that concerns you, which will ensure your comments are received by the case officer and are considered as part of the determination of the application. However, you can also object to STL planning applications using Living Rent’s online tool. 

Commenting on STL licence applications 

An application for an STL licence deals with the management of the property, the safety of guests and whether the applicant is a ‘fit and proper person’. You might be aware of a licence application because the applicant usually needs to affix a notice in the vicinity of the application property. You can also check the register of licence applications on the council’s website. 

When commenting on licence applications, you can mention concerns about noise or nuisance from the property, or about the safety of guests, neighbours, or others, or if you believe the operator is not a ‘fit and proper person’, for example if they have relevant criminal convictions. To apply for an STL licence, operators also need to show that they have planning permission or have applied for it, or that they don’t need planning permission. 

Are you aware of an STL operating without planning permission or a licence? 

The other crucial way in which residents can help, is to report potentially illegal or unlicensed STLs. If you see an online advert or listing for a holiday let which doesn’t include the licence number, then it’s very likely that’s a breach of licensing regulations. If you’re aware of an STL, but the address doesn’t appear in the public register, then it’s also likely to be a breach of licensing law. 

If you’re aware of a holiday let in your street or stair, then you can check whether they have planning permission by entering the address or street into the search box on the council’s planning portal. If there’s no result for that address, it’s likely they’re operating without planning permission. 

You can report possible breaches of planning using the web form on the council’s website. It should take no more than 10 minutes. You’ll need to provide your contact details, the address of the suspected breach, the date you believe the breach began and evidence for why you believe there is a breach. This could simply be that you’ve observed a lot of strangers coming and going from the property with suitcases, or that you’ve seen an advert for the property on a holiday letting website. 

Reporting a breach of STL licence regulations

If you believe that an STL is operating without a licence, for example if you see an online advert without a licence number, then you can report that to the council. Details on how to do that are on the council website here. When you report this to the council, you’ll need to provide your name and address, and the address of the property where the problem exists, along with a short description of the problem. 

Getting the balance right 

There’s no doubt that well-run holiday lets in the right location have an important role to play in the tourist economy, which supports a number of jobs in Edinburgh. But the city has not got the balance right between the needs of tourists and the needs of residents. Green councillors will continue to push to reset that balance in favour of residents. If you are able to help in that effort to reset the balance, using of some of the suggestions above, then thank you!

Cllr Ben Parker is co-convenor of the Green Group on Edinburgh Council and is Edinburgh Greens co-spokesperson on housing.