Publication - Research and analysis

Short-term lets - impact on communities: research

Published: 28 Oct 2019

Research to assess the impact, positive and negative, of short-term lets (STLs) in Scotland, with a focus on communities, particularly on neighbourhoods and housing.

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Contents
Short-term lets - impact on communities: research
5. The impact of short-term lets

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5. The impact of short-term lets

This chapter outlines perceptions about the impacts of short-term lets (STLs) from residents, hosts, community actors and local businesses across the five case study areas. The case study areas are Edinburgh City Centre (referred to as Edinburgh), East Neuk of Fife, Glasgow City Centre (referred to as Glasgow), Fort William and Skye.

Overall opinion of the impacts of short-term lets

Resident and host survey respondents were asked about their overall view of the impact of STLs on their neighbourhood. Figure 7 shows that there was a spread of opinion from resident respondents, although they were most likely to have a negative view of STLs (38%), 29% were neutral, and just over a quarter (26%) thought there were positive impacts. A different view was held by host respondents, with the majority (71%) considering the impact to be positive and only 3% negative, whilst 25% took a neutral position.

Figure 7: Resident and host surveys - Which of the following best describes your overall view of the impact that short term lets have on your neighbourhood?

Figure 7: Resident and host surveys - Which of the following best describes your overall view of the impact that short term lets have on your neighbourhood?

Overall opinion of the impacts of short-term lets - differences by area

The small number of respondents at an area level should be noted. The extent to which resident respondents viewed STLs to be positive varied by area. Skye residents were most likely to be positive (45%) followed by Fort William residents (31%), Glasgow residents (23%), Fife residents (18%) and Edinburgh residents (13%). Edinburgh residents were most likely to express a negative view (49%) followed by Glasgow residents (38%), Fort William residents (36%), Skye residents (35%) and Fife residents (33%).

A more consistent view was held by host respondents, although positive opinion also varied by area: 80% of host respondents in Glasgow city centre compared to 56% in Skye. Negative opinion from hosts was low in all the areas – no areas suggested negative opinion higher than 5%.

Positive impacts of short-term lets

Residents and hosts were asked about potential positive impacts of STLs through the survey, and positive impacts were then explored with all participant groups in the qualitative research.

Overview of positive impacts

Resident and host respondents were shown a list of potential positive impacts of STLs, and asked to what extent they agreed with each. It should be noted there were very little differences by area in these findings.

In relation to these positive impacts of having STLs in their neighbourhood, resident respondents were most likely to agree with the following positive impacts (Figure 8):

  • Provided accommodation for tourists visiting the area (79% agree)
  • Allowed local people to earn money by letting out their home or part of it (76% agree)
  • Provided short-term accommodation for contract workers coming to the area (64% agree)
  • Were good for the local economy (64% agree)
  • Raised the profile of the area for tourism (59% agree)
  • Were good for the national economy (58% agree)
  • Let local people meet different people / visitors (51% agree).

Even when outright agreement was below 50%, more residents agreed than disagreed that each of the options listed was a positive impact (the balance being made up by 'Don't know' responses).

Figure 8: Resident survey -To what extent do you agree or disagree that the following are positive impacts of having short-term lets in your neighbourhood?[30]

Figure 8: Resident survey -To what extent do you agree or disagree that the following are positive impacts of having short-term lets in your neighbourhood?

Figure 9: Host survey - To what extent do you agree or disagree that the following are positive impacts of having short-term lets in your neighbourhood? [31]

Figure 9: Host survey - To what extent do you agree or disagree that the following are positive impacts of having short-term lets in your neighbourhood?

The majority of host respondents indicated that there was overall a positive impact of having STLs in the neighbourhoods where they offered them. Hosts were most likely to consider each of the following as positive impacts of STLs (Figure 9):

  • Provision of accommodation for tourists visiting the area (99% agree)
  • Being good for the local economy (96% agree)
  • Raising the profile of the area for tourism (93% agree)
  • Local people earning money by letting out their home or part of it (91% agree)
  • Being good for the national economy (88% agree).

In the qualitative interviews, the most common positive impacts identified by residents, hosts, community actors, and local businesses were similar to the survey findings - around the local economy, increased household income for people sharing their homes, and the added vibrancy that the visitor population brings to some areas. Some community and host participants also identified the social benefits of home sharing.

However, some resident and community participants across all areas, and many in Edinburgh and Fort William in particular, found it very difficult to see any positive impacts at all. For them, strong views were held that the negative impacts far outweighed the potential positive impacts, discussed further below.

The qualitative interviews explored a range of positive impacts in more detail, the findings of which are discussed in turn below.

Local economic impacts

In all areas, all participant groups identified that there was a potential positive local economic impact driven by the increased number of visitors. Most participants considered there were positive impacts for the hospitality and wider tourism sector (particularly restaurants, pubs, cafés, gift shops and tour operators), and some also identified benefits for the STLs supply chain, for example cleaners and trades-people involved with property maintenance.

Professional host participants also cited the benefits for the STLs supply chain, with one host saying that she employed more staff, including plumbers and cleaners and as she was a registered business payed tax she also contributed to the wider economy. These aspects were seen as beneficial to both the local economy and from an individual business and personal perspective.

Local economic impacts – differences by area

In Edinburgh, most resident participants could see the potential economic benefits, although none said that they benefited directly.

Many host participants in Edinburgh expressed the view that the provision of visitor capacity through STLs brought wider economic impacts:

"They bring in people into Edinburgh and if they are paying £50 a night instead of £200 they have money to spend with local businesses, restaurants and bars." (Edinburgh, host)

Most of the community participants in Edinburgh found it very difficult to identify with any potential benefits from STLs, for them as individuals or for the community as a whole. Those that did perceive a benefit, thought that more jobs may be created for those servicing STLs. STLs would also serve to increase capacity and flexibility of accommodation in periods of high tourism demand, which in turn could benefit the local economy.

There was a clear difference in opinion between local Edinburgh businesses that serve the tourism industry and those that serve the private residential, affordable housing and corporate STLs sector (businesses and contract workers). All these accommodation based business participants found it more difficult to identify positive impacts of STLs. They could see the potential benefits of tourism to the local economy, but for them this was outweighed by the negative impacts on the residential sector and competition to the corporate, longer term STLs market. Participants from local businesses involved in tourism could see the tangible benefits of increased trade. One café noted that STLs in their area (Tollcross) were a good thing as it spread the tourists and the trade that came with them to their part of town which is slightly off the beaten track:

"It's about the tourism industry – driving and growing it, people spending money in the economy. The volume of people cannot be supported by hotels. There has to be more accommodation if tourism is going to continue to grow and it's great for the local economy." (Edinburgh, business)

In the East Neuk of Fife, again all participants identified with the positive local economic impacts (shops and restaurants, local trades and cleaners). Some participants mentioned busier summer and extended tourism season over the winter months which they thought benefitted some local businesses who previously may have struggled in the off-season. A few community participants referred to the increased accommodation supply enabling increased tourism which otherwise would not have occurred due to otherwise limited alternatives in terms of quantity and quality. They also discussed the increasing competition giving greater choice and having the effect of improving quality.

In Fort William, some resident, host and community participants identified with the local economic benefits of bringing more people into the area to spend money. It was suggested that shorter stays offered by the more recent type of STLs provided through platforms encouraged more people to stop and stay in Fort William who otherwise might not have been interested in visiting if only weekly rentals were available. However, there was also a sense of scepticism from some Fort William residents, and businesses in particular, as to the real extent of these economic benefits, with some suggesting that STLs were simply taking business away from existing providers:

"It is not even positive for tourists. There's hotels with rooms galore available. I don't see the need." (Fort William, resident)

Most business participants in Fort William were reluctant to highlight any benefits as all were largely opposed to STLs operating at the existing scale in the area. They felt that any benefit from tourism was outweighed by the fact that local businesses and other organisations struggled to recruit staff due to the lack of residential options.

In Glasgow, many residents and hosts thought there may be benefits associated with the increase in visitor numbers, which was seen to help local bars and restaurants. From the local businesses perspectives (bars and restaurants), while STLs were assumed to contribute to the city's economy overall, none were able to say whether STLs directly helped their business. They could not say whether customers came from STLs, whether they were other visitors not staying in the city overnight, or were Glasgow residents. Two restaurant owners considered whether they might have actually lost some business as they did not have the same referral relationships with STL owners as they did with hotels. They also reflected on the fact that people make their own meals in STLs which might affect trade. However, the general assumption was that with more people in town their business probably did benefit in some way. In Edinburgh the sense of intensity was quite different and all business participants were fully aware that the majority of trade in some parts came from visitors, many of whom are staying in STLs.

Many Skye resident participants had similar views to all other participants on the local economic benefits, but with the added suggestion that STLs enabled higher number of overnight visitors which brought more economic benefits than day-trippers who were considered to bring no real benefit to the area. In Skye, more host participants than elsewhere stressed the importance of the direct employment made possible through the STLs supply chain within the local community. In particular, they commented on the year-round sustainability of such jobs, which historically had not been the case before the increase in tourism and STLs:

"It provides a lot of people with income and this feeds back into the community in various ways. Our local shop gets a lot of income from our visitors. It adds diversification too. We live in a bubble here in Skye. It's nice to forge links with people from other countries." (Skye, host)

However, while there were similarities about the positive impacts associated with tourism in Fort William and Skye, in both of these areas there were also mixed views about the amenities and services offered as a result of increased visitors. Many participants across participant groups discussed the impact on local shops no longer being relevant for local people, with residents having to travel further for regular shopping such as food and clothing.

"I don't have an issue with tourists nor Airbnb. It provides incomes for many local people and for the local shops. That said, shops now sell hardly anything that's useful, unless you're a tourist or visitor." (Skye, community)

Increasing household income

The second most common positive impact of STLs identified by participants in the qualitative research was around increasing household income from home sharing.

All host participants in all the case study areas identified the positive financial impact of acting as a STLs host. Some noted the better financial return from STLs compared to private renting and others stressed the benefits that the additional income brought to them in terms of their ability to meet mortgage obligations, to improve their property or to sustain themselves in retirement. For some, home sharing was an important element of supplementing their part-time (sometimes relatively low paid) jobs.

"Financially it's been great. I live alone and covering a mortgage on one salary is hard. I'm a nurse. Even if it's just a few nights a month for some months it really helps. The flexibility to block it off for friends is great." (Glasgow, host)

Generally, some resident and business participants in each area could see the benefits of increased household income for hosts.

Increasing household income - differences by area

Area specific perceptions around this impact were only notable in Edinburgh, Fort William and Skye.

In Edinburgh, many resident and community participants mentioned the financial benefits for hosts, from the perspective of letting out whole properties, rather than home sharing. In addition, a few community participants identified increasing housing property values as a potential positive financial impact from STLs for residents. However, these participants did not see this as outweighing the considerable negative impacts which they associated with STLs.

In Fort William, a few community participants could see the benefits of STLs supplementing household income. One participant explained the context that incomes in Fort William are lower than the Scottish average and work is often seasonal; STLs were said to give local residents an income opportunity that would not otherwise be available. Another respondent discussed the ability to earn income through STLs and balance this with wider responsibilities:

"Many hosts are individuals with caring responsibilities and Airbnb fits well with both looking after elderly relatives and children." (Fort William, community)

In Skye, most resident, host, community and business participants noted the financial benefits to local people from letting out a room or a whole property for part of the year, with people generally considered to have a lot more money in their pockets compared to a few years ago.

Increasing vibrancy and investment in the area

Some resident, host and community participants suggested that STLs had added to the vibrancy and diversity of the community, and contributed to more investment into the area and into specific properties that required physical improvement.

Increasing vibrancy and investment in the area – differences by area

In Edinburgh, a few resident participants remarked on the enhanced vibrancy and diversity that came with the visitors using STLs, with some businesses and hosts also mentioning stretching of tourism benefits to areas slightly off the beaten track. A few community participants in Glasgow felt that the STLs investment had helped regenerate part of the city's West End and brought more visitors and tourists into the city. A few hosts also related to the positive impacts of new people and cultures coming into the cities.

In the East Neuk of Fife, Fort William and Skye, a few hosts also highlighted the visual amenity brought to an area when they had invested in properties and brought them back into use:

"I feel strongly that we bought a very run down cottage and have completely renovated it. It's a 'C' listed building. It makes the town look great. It's investing in the housing stock of the area. We know our neighbours. We have made a positive impact." (East Neuk of Fife, host)

Social and lifestyle benefits

The social benefit of home sharing was also highlighted by some host participants across all areas, including the positive impact on their general wellbeing. They commonly commented on the flexibility and work-life balance that the hosting role gave them (whether as home sharers or part-time professional hosts) combined with increased income. Examples included those who were semi-retired and had invested in one or two whole properties, those that were working part-time and also letting out a whole property or a room, and others that had left their jobs to set up their own STLs business. A few hosts commented on the specific benefits, such as the chance to enhance their language skills or generally to get to meet new and interesting people. One Edinburgh home sharer (letting a room) explained that as well as additional income, guests also provided company for him:

"In my home there's a sense of community and sometimes we share a glass of wine together." (Edinburgh, host)

"With my poor health I couldn't keep working the hours I was and needed a job I could do from home and do this 7 days/ week. I don't have to travel as much which is much better. It's given me a good work/life balance. I work 7am to 1pm and have the afternoons to myself." (Fort William, host)

Only one community participant in one area mentioned this benefit, and no residents or businesses discussed this aspect.

Negative impacts of short-term lets

Residents and hosts were asked about potential negative impacts of STLs through the survey, and negative impacts were then explored with all participant groups in the qualitative research.

Overview of negative impacts

Resident and host survey respondents were each shown a list of potential negative impacts of STLs, and asked to what extent they agreed with each. Figures 10 and 11 show the results for each of residents and hosts.

Resident respondents were most likely to consider the following as negative impacts of having STLs in their neighbourhood:

  • Reduction in homes available for general residential use (62% agree)
  • Reduced affordability of housing for local people (57% agree)
  • Negative impact on parking available in the area (53% agree)
  • Increased amount of littering / waste (52% agree)
  • More traffic problems (47% agree).

Opinions were more divided in relation to a number of other potential negative impacts of STLs, with a number of resident respondents disagreeing that certain of these things were actually negative impacts of STLs. For example:

  • 21% of resident respondents agreed that threats or abuse and other types of anti-social behaviour was a negative impact of STLs but 55% disagreed
  • 27% agreed that damage to homes or common areas (e.g. graffiti or vandalism) was a negative impact but 48% disagreed
  • 35% agreed that a negative impact on the overall character of the area was a negative impact of STLs but 45% disagreed.

Figure 11 shows the responses for the same question for hosts. For each element, a majority of hosts disagreed that these were negative impacts of STLs. The areas where hosts were most likely to perceive negative impacts were broadly similar to residents:

  • 37% agreed that a reduction in homes available for general residential use was a negative impact (although 38% disagreed)
  • 32% agreed that reduced affordability of housing for local people was a negative impact (42% disagreed)
  • 26% agreed that more traffic problems was a negative impact (56% disagreed).

For each of the other elements, a majority (usually a large majority) of hosts disagreed that these were negative impacts.

From the qualitative research the most common negative impacts identified by many of the resident, host, community, and business participants were similar to those identified in the surveys:

  • residential accommodation and housing market impacts - with negative impacts on other parts of the local economy and public services due to the inability to get workers / key workers
  • congestion problems - traffic and parking problems, litter and waste, and demand on infrastructure - varied by areas, with many referring to 'over-tourism', quality of tourism services and provision, and potential impact on the 'Scottish brand'.

In addition to these common concerns, many residents, community and some types of business participants (but not hosts) also identified problems relating to:

  • changing communities - in some areas – including lack of amenities for locals, threatening the sense of community, sustainability of communities
  • disturbance to local residents including security and well-being concerns - in some areas depending on property type and housing density
  • lack of financial contribution to local and national services through taxes
  • property / common repair concerns in some areas depending on property type.

Additional negative impacts identified by a small number of host participants related to the stress of operating their STLs businesses, particularly in the very busy summer period. However, it was generally still something that they considered to be worthwhile.

Figure 10: Resident survey - To what extent do you agree or disagree that the following are negative impacts of having short-term lets in your neighbourhood?[32]

Figure 10: Resident survey - To what extent do you agree or disagree that the following are negative impacts of having short-term lets in your neighbourhood?

Figure 11: Host survey - To what extent do you agree or disagree that the following are negative impacts of having short-term lets in your neighbourhood? [33]

Figure 11: Host survey - To what extent do you agree or disagree that the following are negative impacts of having short-term lets in your neighbourhood?

The qualitative interviews explored a range of negative impacts in more detail, the findings of which are discussed in turn below.

Impact on residential housing

The most common concern across resident, community and business participants, and in all areas, was the impact that STLs was perceived to have on the availability of residential accommodation, whether for long-term let or ownership. This impact on supply was also associated with impact on affordability of housing. This was also often mentioned by hosts, but with much less strength of opinion than other participants. The dynamics of different housing markets means there are specific findings for each area.

Impact on residential housing – differences by area

The impacts of STLs on supply and cost of residential housing appeared to be the strongest in Edinburgh, Fort William and Skye as discussed by most resident, community and business participants, and hosts to a lesser extent.

In Edinburgh, most resident, community and business participants highlighted the reduced supply of housing caused by STLs in the city centre, and the impact they felt this was having on housing costs. This was usually expressed as cost of rents in the private rented sector, although some community participants also highlighted local house sales being out of reach for residents, with properties invariably sold to STLs investors. It was claimed by many community participants that this has resulted in a 'spiralling decline'for the sustainability of the local community as there was no way of attracting residents due to increasing prices combined with 'over-tourism' in the area. Residential letting agents discussed the rapid shift in properties from the private rented sector to STLs which they attributed to the recent increase in regulation in the residential sector, alongside lack of regulation and higher profitability of the STLs market.

All social and affordable landlord business participants in Edinburgh gave examples of STLs in their housing stock with illegal letting through online platforms. They also described a lack of control and powerlessness as they felt the problem was getting out of control with inadequate resources to manage the problem. Illegal sub-letting in private rented housing was also noted by letting agents.

A few businesses in Edinburgh talked about the lack of availability of residential housing for workers, with examples of evictions as landlords moved over from long-term to STLs. For the businesses involved, this caused issues related to higher turnover of workers:

"The main problem is displacement of people. My staff and other people can't afford to live here. They are moving further out of town or staying shorter periods of time working for me or the students now go home in the summer because there is nowhere to stay that they can afford." (Edinburgh, business)

Some host participants in Edinburgh also referred to the housing problem, with a few choosing to make the distinction between home sharing (with no negative impact) and whole property letting (with more negative impacts). Other hosts mentioned that they were aware of the widely discussed negative impact on the housing sector, but were sceptical, and considered the housing problems to be overstated, or unrelated to STLs. A few suggested housing problems were caused by lack of investment in affordable housing in the area, and a few others stated there was too much emphasis on development of student housing.

In Fort William and Skye, the suggestion from many business and community participants was that there was a considerable problem in sourcing workers due to lack of available residential housing. This was related to workers for the tourism industry, property construction and maintenance, other local industry, public services including health and education, and the university in Fort William. Some participants in each area explained that the lack of residential housing was exacerbated by the fact that there are very few housing alternatives in these rural areas due to the travel distances involved.

A body representing local business interests in Fort William explained that several businesses were arranging to directly provide accommodation for workers. For example, an industrial plant had recently received planning permission for a caravan site on their property to house factory workers, and a local businessman had purchased a house for accommodation for trades-people working on the local cinema renovation project. Some resident and community participants in Fort William pointed to properties on the housing market being specifically advertised as suitable for STLs investment, and also identified an increasing number of private long-term rentals converting to STLs.

"Our problem is strangled development opportunities. It used to be a seasonal problem where you can do (development work) in the winter when the tourists are away and you can find accommodation, but that's now wiped away because STLs are year-round business." (Fort William, business)

"It affects people's ability to rent properties long term. I've read in local papers that some long term lets have been asked to vacate so that they could be changed to STL. So that's not good." (Fort William, host)

There were parallels with Skye. Some hosts were keenly aware of the housing issue and the impact on the ability to get staff to work in their STLs business:

"We want to strip out Airbnb booking fees to put money back into local housing because we recognise there's a shortage of long-term accommodation. We are trying to create salaried roles and be as ethical as possible." (Skye, host)

Skye business participants working in the housing sector suggested that there are no private lets available for residents. Examples were provided of households evicted from private lets that were being converted to STLs, and one who had to register as homeless due to lack of market housing options. Rehousing resulted in very long journeys to work due the lack of more local alternatives. Similar frustrations were shared by some other business and community participants working in the health and social care sectors. One person suggested that operating a safe health service had now become almost an everyday challenge due to the difficulty of filling healthcare posts caused by the lack of housing options. It was also said by these business participants to be difficult for the health service to recruit and retain cleaning staff due to higher earnings available for cleaning STLs. There were similar problems identified in the wider social care sector. This recurring theme about housing for key workers was expanded by some other community and business participants in Skye who provided more examples of difficulties in filling posts due to lack of accommodation across the public and private sector - fire officers, teachers, IT staff, staff for an outdoor sports company and within the wider hospitality sector. One business participant mentioned that tourism-based companies are building their own staff accommodation, or buying property to provide temporary accommodation. Other participants also stated that it is difficult to secure building and maintenance services with prices being much higher as a result. The response from one housing association has been to create its own building services team, which is also able to generate an income contracting for others such as NHS Highland and Highland Council.

"Some local workers just cannot find accommodation. We need accommodation in Portree, within walking distance of the project. The bus service here is particularly poor, so shift work is challenging. We have a member of staff who lives in Staffin, and if he does not leave exactly at 6 o'clock he then has to fork out £25 for a taxi, so clearly you can't do that very often. But again, in this job, sometimes it's difficult to be able to leave right on time. But despite it all we are still working through and still able to deliver the service, but it has been exceptionally challenging." (Skye, business)

In the East Neuk of Fife, there were also concerns from some resident, community and business participants, as well as a few hosts. This has always been a holiday home strong hold and so the impacts of the 'new' STLs phenomenon was less clear, but nevertheless these participants had significant concerns about the lack of affordability of housing for locals (across all housing tenures), and the impact this may have on long-term sustainability of communities. One businessman commented on the positive impacts for businesses, but negative impacts for housing and the wider community:

"As a businessman I would say yes, Airbnb has been positive, but as a human being I'd say no, it's not." (East Neuk of Fife, business)

Finally, in Glasgow, STLs appeared to have had the least impact on residential supply compared to the other areas, although a few hosts highlighted this problem. There was a distinction made between the city centre which has perhaps had a more transient population, compared to Finnieston where STLs are moving into more traditional residential tenemental areas. There were also examples here of eviction of social tenants for illegally sub-letting for STLs purposes, in the same way as was found in Edinburgh.

Congestion and 'over-tourism'

Many participants across all groups commented on wider environmental nuisance and infrastructure concerns. While this was also related to wider tourism, there were suggestions that the volume of tourism and nuisance caused is supported by the rise in STLs. These impacts were felt most keenly in Edinburgh, Fort William and Skye where participants referred to 'over-tourism'. This was also mentioned in the East Neuk of Fife, but to a lesser extent. In Glasgow, noise, litter and parking problems were discussed in relation to event tourism, but was less directly attributed to STLs.

Negative impacts associated with tourism and congestion by many participants across all groups, and particularly in Edinburgh, Fort William and Skye included the reduction of local amenities and local shops for residents, crowded streets, limited parking, traffic, increase in noise, rubbish and litter, and overall diminished quality of life for residents living in the area.

"This year the crowding in the streets is greater. By March it's difficult to walk down the street. The Council is delighted by this; more tourists, but it's 'feeding the beast'. Tourism has become too much. It's so crowded and expensive. What are tourists getting out of it now?" (Edinburgh, community)

There were also concerns in these popular tourist areas that the prevalence of an unregulated STLs sector would damage the 'Scotland brand' and could negatively impact on the tourism experience. A few business participants also expressed concerns that amateur hosts run STLs without the level of care and hospitality that professional self-caterers tend to take in their business, which could damage the sector's reputation and become a drag on standards overall.

Congestion and 'over-tourism' - differences by area

In Fort William and Skye, concerns were raised by some community and business participants about public safety and building control owing to the number of camping pods, sheds and caravans being made available for tourist accommodation. The same participants raised some doubts that planning permission had been gained for some of these temporary units, and concerns were expressed around lack of regulation and health and safety. However, it was clear from these comments that these were issues about 'over-tourism' generally rather than STLs and a few hosts suggested that camper vans were a much more significant cause of nuisances (including road safety, parking and littering) than STLs. Many viewed this as an unintended consequence of the highly successful NC500 tourism initiative.

"Parts of Skye have masses of tourists and the infrastructure can't cope, Camper vans throw chemical waste into the rivers and streams." (Skye, host)

In Skye, there were specific concerns raised about infrastructure problems by many host participants who perceived failings on certain aspects including roads and wider tourism infrastructure, particularly in relation to travel congestion and its impacts:

"Roads are taking a real hit though, and the north is a lot worse for patching. That impacts on the tourism experience, especially if you bust a tyre, and the time and hassle that it takes to sort out on a single track road miles from anywhere" (Skye, host).

Changes to communities

Many resident, community and a few business participants, raised concerns about the impact that STLs have on the character of areas, and sustainability of communities. The most common issues related to the availability of local services, shops for local people, and the impact on falling primary school rolls due to falling residential population. These issues were raised in all areas apart from Glasgow.

The reduction of local services and shops for local people was raised by many community participants across all areas except Glasgow. These participants often made a direct link between the growth of STLs and tourism to the closure of local amenities such as a post office, a bank, and library. They also noted that many retailers in these areas now concentrate on the tourists for trade, with examples of local shops such as the local butcher, green grocer and newsagent closing over recent years. Some participants in rural areas were concerned about the continued 'liveability' of the community for local people, with useful local shops closing for 'tourist twee' shops. They highlighted that people now have to travel long distances for shopping due to local shop closures - one resident explained that a 70 mile trip to Inverness was required to buy 'basic stuff'. Another example was provided from the East Neuk of Fife where some community representatives are trying to retain local amenities through a 'use or lose it' campaign. This type of impact was discussed by community participants in Edinburgh's city centre where the Old Town was now said to have no local shops left for residents since the last newsagent recently closed. Some resident and community participants perceived STLs to have had a negative impact on the character of their community.

"I used to live in a neighbourhood where I knew my neighbours but now as people are dying all the properties are becoming Airbnb. I just want to know who I'm living next to and who I'm sharing my drive with." (Fort William, resident)

"The local shops have gone. The retail offering wasn't good for locals before the short-term lets but it's worse now. We have the Sainsbury's but goods are now targeted to tourists e.g. crisps and pizzas and fast convenience food." (Edinburgh, community)

Some community participants in Edinburgh, the East Neuk of Fife and Skye raised concerns over the population of family households and in turn, the falling rolls in local primary schools. The key concern here was that as soon as a local primary closes it becomes very difficult to attract families and sustain the local community.

Changes to communities – differences by area

In Edinburgh, many residents and community participants spoke about the loss of sense of community relating to less residents in the area, and for many, the loss of community was also associated with not knowing people living in your tenement:

"I have no problem with people letting out a room when they are still living there, making ends meet, that's okay. It's the number of whole flats that are being let out that is the problem. It used to be all residents around here but now it is about half. This is a city where people live and work but slowly that is being eroded and in time there will be no residents. It feels like it is being taken over by companies for holiday lets." (Edinburgh, community)

"The community of the stair is no longer effective. So many visitors don't know anything about it, and they don't care." (Edinburgh, resident)

A few hosts talked about this issue in Edinburgh, refuting any claims about the loss of community, or potential sustainability, specifically regarding the Old Town. One host participant argued that the Old Town had not been a community for some time, and few people wanted to live there anyway:

"You could argue that people are deprived of choice to live, and reducing residential space in the Old Town and people don't want to live in the Old Town. People talk about meeting strangers in the stairwell, but this is perceived problem, not an actual one. There is no community and neighbours in these areas, people don't talk to each other – there is no actual problem, just perceived." (Edinburgh, host)

Disturbance to local residents, impact on quality of life and well-being

Many resident and community participants, and a few businesses were very concerned about the disturbance and anti-social behaviour caused by STLs on a daily basis with the impact this had on quality of life and well-being for residents. This related to disturbance in the immediate residential vicinity, and the lack of sense of, and actual security caused. This impact was mainly related to higher density urban areas, property types with common space, and tenements in particular and so this impact was particularly prevalent in Edinburgh and Glasgow, with a few complaints also in the East Neuk of Fife in properties with common space.

Concerns were also raised by many participants resident, community and business participants in all case study locations over the lack of health and safety regulations in STLs when compared to the residential letting market, or traditional B&B and hotel sectors. This was often raised by resident and community participants in the context of disturbance, security, and concern over health and safety. This was also linked to concerns about building insurance - one community participant explained that insurance could be invalidated under certain circumstances if there are too many STLs in a common stair, presenting considerable risk to all residents, and property owners including hosts.

Disturbance to local residents and impact of quality of life – differences by area

In Edinburgh, one of the most prevalent concerns and negative impacts of STLs raised by many resident and community participants was around the daily disruption caused by STLs. This included noise caused by the constant stream and volume of visitors and cleaners in common stairs; the noise of suitcases being wheeled about and bumping up and down two or three times every week; continual buzzing at the common entry doors at anti-social hours; visitors not understanding how to use the local refuse system; visitors not recycling; taxis arriving and departing often using their horns to indicate their arrival, and smoking in the common areas. The same participants discussed the fact that this could be ignored occasionally, but it was the incessant nature of the disruption which caused unhappiness. There was a sense of powerlessness to do anything about the problem due to the transient nature of tourists, the anonymity of hosts and no-one 'centrally in the council' to go to. This often related to visitors not understanding the etiquette of living in tenements.

"A new [long term] tenant or owner that hasn't lived in a tenement before might make a noise, but then gradually they learn the unwritten rules, and we all get along – that can't be done with three-day visitors." (Edinburgh, community)

There was a strong sense from many of the Edinburgh resident participants that visitors used tenements as apart-hotels and did not understand that tenements, including the common stair, are part of people's homes. For some resident and community participants there was a clear sense that STLs in their close were affecting their well-being:

"We're really upset about it, we are feeling not in control, it's a huge loss, I get depressed about it." (Edinburgh, community)

Some Edinburgh and Glasgow resident and community participants also discussed this in the context of tenement closes which many people consider as their own small communities. They discussed the lack of security with strangers coming in and out of the common door, knocking on owners' doors and sometimes trying to get into them in error when looking for their STLs.

These arguments were refuted by some hosts in Edinburgh who claimed that STLs were actually easier to manage than long-term lets, comparing respectful short-term visitors to student residents who were said to commonly cause leaks, noise and parties. One host gave an example of a property being converted from a long-term let with students to STLs with three out of five residents in the stair telling him the noise situation was now much better. Another host also argued that noise problems are caused by students not STLs. Some hosts stressed how they instilled the rules to the guests on how to behave in tenements.

In Glasgow, the major concern from resident and community participants related to anti-social behaviour and noise nuisance within residential common spaces. They mentioned serious damage to property and disturbances in both residential closes and streets, involving domestic rubbish, broken bottles, urination and defecation. Although it was acknowledged not all of this was the directly resulted from STLs and was often associated with music events at the Hydro, 'party flat' damage was directly attributable. The various disturbances in the common close was felt to leave residents feeling unsafe and in fear, especially given the high proportion of elderly living in the area. Again, concerns about local people sharing the close with strangers was discussed by community participants:

"For me it's primarily about having a non-resident issue within residential properties. The residents are annoyed not with the visitors, or tourists, but by the landlords who have put them in this situation. They do not like having strange people constantly moving in and out". (Glasgow, community)

A common problem cited by resident and community participants in Glasgow, and to a lesser extent in Edinburgh was related to party flats or 'crash pads' (groups of older teenagers, hen and stag groups, and other groups of men and women) where the various disturbances in the common close was felt to leave residents feeling unsafe:

"I now spend less time in my own home and have actually booked a hotel away to get peace. It's a mixture of constant strangers being about and the noise affecting me all night. When you walk out of the door and there are 6 males drinking in the corridor it can be a bit scary. This has a real effect on my life. My family used to visit me a lot; now I actually go and visit them." (Glasgow, resident)

There were a few mentions from the East Neuk of Fife relating to noise and disturbance from STLs, and again this related to properties with an element of communal living space. Despite this, the East Neuk of Fife still appeared to retain a strong sense of community, and does not seem to be affected by feelings of strangers around the place. This may be due to the core of second home owners who are regular visitors and seen as part of the 'part-time' community.

Complaints were also made by some resident, community and business participants in Fort William, but this mainly related to disturbances from 'parties in pods'.

Lack of tax contribution to services

Some resident, but predominantly community and business participants in all areas raised concern over the perceived non-payment of taxes by STL owners. The common view from these participants was that while STLs are often in effect businesses they are not paying their fair share of taxes to contribute to local services. However, at the same time the STLs businesses were said to be creating significant infrastructure demand including water, sewage, roads, car parking, public toilets and waste disposal. It was highlighted that even if STLs are registered as businesses for letting purposes (and many participants suspected that most were not) they could potentially benefit from reduced or zero domestic rates. Some community and business participants in both Skye and the East Neuk of Fife were concerned that where second homes chose to become businesses, then the Council tax charge was lost, and was not replenished through other local taxes[34].

Hosts did not raise this subject, although some did discuss taxes under potential regulation which is detailed at the end of this chapter.

Lack of regulation and competition impacts

Another issue cited by all participants - resident, community, business and host participants - was the lack of regulation in the STLs market. While lack of regulation was raised by most hosts, it was not discussed as a negative impact, but rather as an area that needed to be addressed particularly around the need for health and safety regulations.

Lack of regulation and competition impacts – differences by area

In Edinburgh, all participant groups raised the lack of health and safety and registration regulations compared to the residential market. For many resident, community and business participants this was also linked to difficulties with getting common repairs done due the absence of a landlord register for STLs and therefore the inability to trace owners. A number of examples were provided around leaks, and residents being unable to find the owners/hosts to resolve issues. While many host participants agreed with the need for health and safety regulations they did not agree that STLs contributed to common repair issues, and a few hosts claimed the opposite - that they invested in common repairs when other long term rental landlords did not.

Some Edinburgh businesses working in the STLs market (property agents, self-caterers) also raised the increased competition from the change in the STLs market as a problem for their business. Their concern was the ability to keep pace with the shift in the market and change of business model for STLs, while the new form of STLs has very little regulation and ease of entry to the market compared to traditional visitor accommodation models.

Similar views from business participants were shared in the East Neuk of Fife, Fort William and Glasgow. These participants emphasised that they did not fear competition but stressed that it should be fair. They felt that STLs are in practice no different from theirs - competing for the same market and yet were not subject to the same degree of regulatory oversight or tax liability. Some hosts said they would welcome more regulation in the STLs market to spread good practice which they believed already existed, and to provide credibility and reputation for this sector. This is discussed further below.

Potential regulation

All participant groups were asked whether they saw a role for local or national government in regulating STLs, and if so what outcomes they would wish see achieved through such regulation. There were generally common views from resident and community participants, with some similarity from hosts and businesses.

Many resident and community participants suggested:

  • rebalancing housing supply back towards residential
  • limiting the numbers of STLs in specific areas
  • limiting the number of times a property could be let
  • ensuring health and safety
  • ensuring compensation for damage and disturbance (more common in Edinburgh and Glasgow)
  • ensuring STLs pay tax and contribute to local services
  • increasing accountability for the behaviour of guests.

There was a split in opinion amongst host participants between those that felt there was no need for any regulation at all, and those that suggested a number of different possible dimensions of a potential regulatory response. Some hosts also stated they were quite surprised that there was not already some regulation. This was not something that varied particularly by area, with all areas having a range of different opinions from hosts.

Those hosts that did agree with potential regulation made similar suggestions to resident and community participants – minimum safety standards and compliance with specific regulations like the private rented residential sector; ensuring consistency of taxation treatment and effective and consistent implementation of this; ensuring STLs businesses are appropriately insured[35]; measures to address any overcrowding; regulations to address anti-social behaviour where it occurs; and, potential limits on number of STLs in any one area where this was identified as a particular problem.

Regardless of the specific regulations that could be brought in, many hosts drew a clear distinction across all areas between individuals sharing their accommodation (both those that share rooms, and whole properties) and more professional operations run on a commercial basis:

"There needs to be a clear distinction made between letting out a room in your home by making a business out of it by buying up whole properties and renting them out. It would put me off if I had to pay fees to do it." (Fort William, community)

These comments highlighted the concerns expressed by some hosts about a 'blanket law' that could apply across the country, where the impact of STLs in different areas might vary. Some hosts also highlighted what they saw as significant practical difficulties and associated costs in fairly and consistently applying any scheme of regulation, and some hosts were sceptical that the rationale for any type of regulation was a means of getting additional income for the authorities.

There was a split in opinion amongst business participants. Many non-residential based businesses could not see the need for regulation, but residential and tourist accommodation based businesses[36] were more likely to see the need for regulation. Again, their opinions were similar to those identified by resident, community and host participants – restoring the balance between residential accommodation and STLs, controlling numbers of STLs by area, implementing health and safety regulations, requiring adequate building insurance cover, and ensuring that all taxes are paid. For business participants working in the self-catering industry regulation was seen as important for credibility of the sector. One established self-caterer (who did not consider herself a host) stated:

"When I was researching this market I was baffled that there isn't regulation, no health and safety. Anyone can buy a house and just let it out and do nothing with it to make it safe. Local authorities need the power to regulate and limit the numbers. I'm all for regulation as long as it is fair and transparent." (Edinburgh, business)

Potential regulation - differences by area

In Edinburgh, most resident and community participants wanted limits on the number of STLs per stair, number of days and to control the type of accommodation that could be used for very short STLs (less than one week). Glasgow resident participants wanted hosts to be more accountable for guest behaviour. In Skye, many resident, host and community participants were more cautious about potential regulation and were concerned about any loss of income for resident hosts.

Differences by area also related to the strength of feeling where in Edinburgh, some resident, and all community participants were outraged by the current STLs situation and stated their extreme frustration that action was long overdue by Scottish Government and local government. One community council representative stated:

"We have watched with increasing dismay and puzzlement as to why it has been allowed to increase in this way. We know it has been discussed but no action has been taken." (Edinburgh, community)

In Skye, there was a sense of bemusement from many community and business participants as to exactly how regulation could work and perhaps that the situation had gone too far already. Questions were raised by these participants as to whether regulation would be relating to registration of the property, or number of guests that could stay or both, and would it be the owner/landlord, or property manager that would be made accountable.

In the East Neuk of Fife, some business participants suggested a proportionate regulatory approach which ensured fair competition, as well as health and safety. Some businesses in Fort William suggested an appetite to review the lodgers allowance to encourage letting to workers rather than tourists, and to introduce other mechanisms to encourage key worker housing. In Skye, many business participants wanted a level playing field across the tourism accommodation market and mechanisms to help social landlords with reducing STLs in their rented stock and shared ownership/shared equity properties[37]. Community and business participants in both Fort William and Skye questioned whether any tourist tax (if there was one) would actually be reinvested by Highland Council locally.

Overall, most participants were more interested in discussing outcomes rather than the actual specific mechanisms of regulation. A few host, community and business participants had some suggestions which included the introduction of a register, licensing scheme, planning controls, deed conditions, and a tourist tax.

Key findings – Chapter 5

The overall key findings on the positive and negative impacts of STLs, as well as on potential regulation, are summarised below.

Positive impacts

  • The positive impacts of STLs most commonly identified related to the local economic impacts associated with the tourism sector. This was identified across all areas, although many participants at the same time pointed to the negative impacts of tourism on their community and neighbourhood.
  • Another common positive impact identified was the potential for local people earning income as hosts, with a high proportion of residents and hosts seeing this potential. The qualitative research suggested this was more likely to be business income, rather than increasing income for individual households through home sharing. Home sharing and the associated income appeared to be more important in the rural and remote areas (excluding the traditional holiday home area of East Neuk).
  • Increasing the vibrancy and investment in local areas was identified by some participants in all areas, and spreading the benefits of tourism to areas out of the traditional tourist areas was identified in Edinburgh.
  • The social and lifestyle benefits of hosting were identified by many hosts across all areas, with the positive impact this had on their general wellbeing, work-life balance, and meeting new and interesting people for those that were home sharing.

Negative impacts

  • The most common negative impact identified was around the availability and affordability of residential accommodation, across all housing tenures. There were strongly held views on this negative impact from residents, community actors and businesses in all areas, although less so in Glasgow (whilst this impact was identified by some hosts, it was also considered to be overstated or unrelated to STLs). Negative impacts were also identified for the wider local economy due to the inability to attract incoming and key workers for key industries and public services due lack of housing.
  • Another commonly identified negative impact of STLs was congestion. This was associated with the rise in STLs caused by the increase in tourism across all areas causing problems with traffic, parking problems, litter and waste, and demand on infrastructure related to 'over-tourism'. The experience of reduced access to housing combined with this congestion was considered to be changing the nature of specific communities in all areas (with the exception of Glasgow) which included impacts on lack of amenities for locals, and threatening the sustainability of local communities.
  • There were considerable concerns regarding the disturbance to local residents including the negative impact on their security and well-being, particularly in the higher density urban environments of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and particularly in property types with common space e.g. tenements. Related to this property type were concerns over the ability to have common repairs undertaken, although this was strongly refuted by some hosts. This was found to a lesser extent in the East Neuk of Fife, and not in the other rural areas.
  • In all areas, there were concerns from most participants (apart from hosts) about the lack of financial contribution to local and national taxes and services, but at the same time higher demand on local services caused by the increase in STLs.

Potential regulation

  • In all areas, across all types of participants there was general agreement (with a few exceptions from hosts) around the need for regulation for STLs to safeguard health and safety of residents and guests. Many participants (except hosts) also suggested using regulation as a means of rebalancing housing supply back towards residential housing. Many of these participants wanted to see the introduction of registration to enable better management of damage and disturbance caused by STLs, and to ensure business taxes were paid.

Contact

Email: STLresearch@gov.scot