Short Term Lets Consultation Scottish Government – An Expert’s View
I need your help. Life is fairly tough for travel, hospitality and tourism sectors around the world right now due to Covid-19. It’s hit Scotland hard too, especially in our cities like Edinburgh. So, the Short Term Lets Consultation by the Scottish Government getting rushed through in four weeks rather than the normal twelve, especially when it plans to make calamitous changes to Scotland’s self catering industry seems like very weird timing. It will effect every type of self catering, from people renting out rooms in their homes to people renting their home for short periods like The Edinburgh Festival. The consultation closes tomorrow, 16th October, so there’s no time to lose.
What is the Short Term Lets Consultation by the Scottish Government?
They are proposing an onerous licensing scheme and planning changes across the whole of Scotland as well as handing local authorities carte blanche powers to introduce whatever local rules they want. Edinburgh Council has made clear its loathing for self catering and has said that it won’t grant permission for any form of short term lets in tenement stairwells. Most accommodation in Edinburgh is within a tenement stairwell, so the impact in our much loved capital city will be very significant. At the recent Edinburgh Tourism Action Group, Adam McVey, leader of Edinburgh Council said he expected the number of short term lets in the city to be ‘significantly diminished’ and that whilst he didn’t have a problem with the Festival, he did not want people staying in homes all year round. If that happens, Dickins would cease to be a viable business, The Festival would be significantly impacted because the proposed changes aren’t fit for purpose for festival letting and locals and visitors will no longer have the choice of staying in a home rather than a hotel when they need/want to.
It’s all rather serious and keeping me awake most of the night. If the problem is a few rogue owners renting out over occupied party flats with profit in mind and no care or concern for neighbours and their neighbourhood, why not deal with them and leave professional businesses like mine to get on with doing what we do very well?
What do Dickins think: An Open Letter to Andrew Mott
I’ve worked in this industry for 23 years, so I wrote to Andrew Mott who is in charge at The Scottish Government yesterday. I shared that email with Edinburgh MP’s, MSP’s, Visit Scotland, the Scottish Tourism Alliance and my industry body the ASSC. Here’s my email to him.
I was invited by Fiona Campbell of the ASSC to take part in the STL consultation workshop on 2nd October but I was unable to attend unfortunately, hence why I’m emailing you.
I understand that you are anxious to get this right, so I want to share my own extensive knowledge and experience. I doubt there’s anyone in Edinburgh who understands short term letting here as well as I do. There are many things in the consultation which I agree with – safety and stopping overcrowding being the mains ones and in fact when I first read it, I hoped that this could be a way to stamp a professional mark on my industry. Over the past couple of years, I’ve spoken at a conference organised by The Cockburn Association and been interviewed by the BBC, The Times and The Guardian about short term letting in Edinburgh. But no one from the Scottish Government has ever been in direct contact with me to talk to me about my industry.
I’ve been involved in short term letting in Edinburgh, through my business, Dickins, for 23 years. I have an office on Dundas Street and today employ six people including myself. I say today, because after the end of October, that may not be the case. I pay taxes and my business also supports housekeepers, window cleaners, plumbers, heating engineers, handymen etc. In those 23 years, I’ve witnessed huge changes in my marketplace. But I have never felt concern like I do today.
In this moment, with Covid19 decimating the travel and tourism industry in cities across the whole world as well as here in Scotland, you’d hope as an impacted local professional business that the Scottish Government would have your back. But, instead of having our back, it feels like you have this industry, which contributes £50m to the local economy and £723m across the whole of Scotland, down on the ground with a boot on our neck. In the coming months you’ll decide whether to give it a final shove, extinguishing the life from it completely. It’s quite extraordinary when you think about it.
My concerns are numerous and widespread:-
- Despite consultations and papers, does The Scottish Government actually understand the differences and complexities of this industry? From what I read and hear, I don’t feel confident it does.
- Have you considered the economic impact of your proposals (BRIA) which I understand you are required to do by law?
- Why would The Scottish Government be considering steps which go completely against the Scottish Tourism Strategy for 2030?
- Why is a consultation of this magnitude and potential impact being rushed through in four weeks as a statutory instrument not requiring parliamentary approval but decided by committee? This seems even stranger when so much legislation is currently being delayed. Why the rush with this?
- Have you considered the real life impact of this proposed legislation? I will go on to give examples.
- There is no mention of Covid19 in the consultation. Has the Scottish Government considered the impact of Covid19 on where people want to live going forward? It is unlikely to be in small flats in the centre of cities.
- Why are you not choosing to use legislation which already exists (Anti Social Behaviour, Fire Safety etc) to solve problems?
- Why the Isle of Man Registration System which appears to be fit for purpose and cost effective not being used here?
- The impact on Edinburgh’s economy, standing in the world and its world class Festivals that the message you’re not welcome to stay in homes here will give.
- Why is this not being phased with Registration coming first which would allow you to understand actual rather than anecdotal evidence and then move onto Licensing if there is a clear evidence based requirement for it?
- Giving Edinburgh Council, which is clearly biased against my industry, carte blanche to create its own set of rules especially around letting within tenements
- If the problem is rogue hosts/owners in Edinburgh with party flats who care about profit and not their neighbours, then why don’t you target them specifically? It’s so easy to find them – a 10 minute google search will flush them out. That would be SO much easier than the changes you are proposing.
I started my business letting homes for the Festival 23 years ago. What we do in Edinburgh is fairly unique. We haven’t gone down the route of very short stays booked via portals. We believe strongly in the need for balance. We understand and respect the needs of residents, because we’re residents here too. We understand that a delicate balance is required between the needs of residents, business and visitors to the city so that it works for everyone. The following things are and have always been the case for Dickins.
- Many of the homes we look after are second homes, so they are being made available for the time the owners aren’t using them rather than being closed up and empty. The owners have connections to Edinburgh or just love spending time here. They care about their homes and want respectful guests staying in them who will take care of them and not cause any issues for neighbours.
- The homes we look after are in very good condition and great quality.
- We specialise in providing temporary housing solutions – mid term rentals of four weeks plus. We used to call these short lets as opposed to holiday lets, and the Festival.
- We don’t advertise any sofa beds, so there’s no over occupation in any of our homes.
- We don’t allow any stag or hen nights or parties.
- We have a 24 hour emergency phone for guests/owners and neighbours.
- We don’t use any lockboxes apart from one outside our office which is necessary for current CV19 check ins and I’m working remotely in accordance with Scottish Government guidelines.
- None of our housekeepers are allowed to leave any laundry in stairwells.
- We ask our owners to let their neighbours know that we are their agent and owners report that neighbours are reassured that we’ll be managing the home for them. We always play our part in any stair related matters.
- We have received not one single complaint from a neighbour in the past year and the only complaint I can remember before that was a neighbour complaining about the sound of a crying baby.
- We are members of the ASSC
- We market Edinburgh to the world through our blog and social media. We’re doing a better job of that than Marketing Edinburgh at the moment! https://www.dickins.co.uk/blog/
In the past couple of months we have housed:-
- The new German Consul whilst he looked for a permanent home.
- An executive relocating from England to work for Baillie Gifford, whilst he looks for a new home.
- An executive relocating from the States to work for Dexcom.
- An international VIP businessman with significant business interests in the city.
- Several families who need temporary housing due to insurance work on their own homes.
- Several families who need temporary housing whilst they have refurbishment work done on their own homes.
- Several people who need a temporary home whilst they wait for their own new build home to be finished.
- Several digital nomads who work from home and can work anywhere in the world and love Scotland.
Some of these guests have stayed in homes with their own front door and others are staying in homes within stairwells. They want to rent a home from us which is fully equipped and where the price is fully inclusive so they don’t need to set up any utilities etc. They also want and indeed need, to be able to plan ahead and the long term letting alternative does not allow for that.
Currently I’m talking to the following people who want to book in advance:-
- Fulbright Scholars from the US who want to book their accommodation in Edinburgh for their stay here in 2021.
- A film company who need accommodation for their staff from November until next July and then 20 more homes from February until July next year.
- People who want to book accommodation for the Festival in 2021
It would be completely insane for Edinburgh if these people above were not able to stay in homes with us. What is your plan for where they would be able to stay if Edinburgh Council does not allow non PRT lets in stairwells?
The Festival is an area of major concern for me. I provide all the apartments for the Edinburgh International Festival, as well as working closely with performers and major venues. The International Festival office and Fringe venues all book accommodation for more than 28 days for their staff – often it’s around 8 weeks as they need to be here for the set up and take down too. Performers who are here for the whole month, tend to book accommodation for 31 nights and not 28. There seems to be no provision for this within the proposed regulations. Where are you thinking these people working and performing in the festival should stay? The Festival is already facing a housing crisis but your proposals could mean that it just can’t function. Here’s a blog I wrote on the festival housing crisis in 2019. https://www.dickins.co.uk/blog/news/the-crisis-threatening-the-future-of-the-edinburgh-festival/
The Old Town has changed and evolved since it was built. The Canongate, built containing huge houses of important people, fell into decline after the Act of Union diminished the need to be near Holyrood. It then went into decline and by the 1930’s this once great street had become a slum. The tourists came along and the area is regenerated again. The decline in the desire of locals to live in the Old Town has been happening over the past 25 years. https://www.dickins.co.uk/blog/news/tourism-and-edinburgh-what-future/ It’s not a practical place to live now. There are so few facilities for residents. What studies have been done to demonstrate a significant demand from people to live in the Old Town if many more apartments became available to let long term? The home I mention in my blog above which was closed down by Edinburgh Council has gone on to be rented by students. How is that a good result? Students have so much housing provision already.
During Covid, we’ve all thought differently about our homes as we’ve spent so much time in them. Having outdoor space has never been more important. Everyone looking at a potential new home will think, could I do a lockdown here? I cannot see any basis where the demand to live in the Old Town will increae. I think the opposite will be true. In Edinburgh we have a unique opportunity to maintain a life in parts of our cities where residents prefer not to stay, supporting many local businesses as visitors tend to eat out and spend money in a way they don’t when they’re at home. In that respect, we’re the envy of so many city centres which do not have the potential/demand for life in their city centres in the way that Edinburgh does. We have a solution to this problem. And it would be ironic if we take that solution and smash it with a sledgehammer.
I find it exasperating, that me and my professional team, our owners and guests are being thrown in the same pot and treated in the same way as people renting vastly over occupied flats to stag and hen nights for two nights at a time like this https://www.henedinburgh.com/ It’s exasperating as we couldn’t be coming at this from a more different perspective. But I don’t feel at all confident that you understand that. Do you understand the huge differences between professional operators like me and private individuals using portals to maximise profit?
Reading endless negative press about my industry is depressing too, because so many people I see around me are doing a world class job. Look at the ASSC and everything they do so professionally and with such rigour. Just look at the way as an industry we have nimbly reacted to the significant responsibilities we now face with cleaning and Covid19 providing safe places for people to stay and holiday. Your proposed legislation is all about solving so called problems with my industry. But how many of those problems have been verified as being true? So much change is being demanded based on anecdotal hearsay and potential grievance.
There are solutions which will ensure safety, allow Edinburgh to continue to flourish, allow our world class tourism and hospitality sectors to recover and thrive again. Solutions that support jobs and livelihoods, our economy, the lives of residents. Scotland is a country that people love and will always want to visit. But they want to have a choice of where they stay. If the Scottish Government and Edinburgh Council creates legislation that means they no longer have choice, many thousands will choose to go elsewhere in the world and the impact on our nation will be seismic and long lasting.
In this email I have highlighted the huge potential for unintended consequence with this legislation, especially as it is being so unnecessarily rushed.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I’d be delighted to speak to you if you felt that was useful. I hope that I’ve highlighted aspects of the implications of this legislation which you may not have considered and will consider making changes before it is too late.
Want to have your say on the Short Term Lets Consultation? Here’s what to do
I’d love your help please. If you own a home you let out in Scotland, or if you stay in self catering accommodation when you come to Scotland and want to continue to be able to do that and have a choice over where you can stay, please complete the questionnaire on the Scottish Government’s Consultation before it closes tomorrow 16th October.
Here’s an excellent webinar organised by the Association of Scotland Self Caterer’s and Gilson Gray LLP giving their legal opinion on the consultation and likely repercussions.
There are only three questions and it doesn’t take very long. Feel free to use any of the points I’ve made in my email to Andrew Mott, but use your own words rather than copying mine.
- The first is about their definition of a short let – here you can talk about the difference between a party flat let by the night and properties which guests are using as temporary homes and the difference between properties which are professionally managed or let our via portals by amateurs.
- The second is about the control areas – this is where you need to talk about Edinburgh not allowing short lets in tenement stairwells and the impact that would have on you.
- The third is about the licensing order. Here you could mention how a registration scheme with health and safety would be a sensible approach and then licensing could be brought in if evidence showed it was necessary.
Here’s a link to the consultation https://consult.gov.scot/housing-services-policy-unit/short-term-lets-licensing-scheme/
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this blog and thank you for taking the time to complete the consultation questionnaire.