I am grateful to be able to raise the Airbnb subject under Topical Issues today. It is a highly topical issue that has been commanding attention for the last number of days.
We need to have a conversation in this House about Airbnb. It is well past time. Airbnb has featured as a topic on the airwaves and in newspapers, both nationally and internationally, for the past year or so. For travellers, websites such as that of Airbnb offer affordable rooms to travellers and tourists, as well as an insight into and a taste of local living throughout the world. Airbnb's European headquarters are, as we know, based in Dublin, providing 300 jobs in the capital. I recognise that for those who rent rooms or properties, it can represent a financial lifeline. In the Irish context, being in negative equity has often been cited as a reason for availing of such a lifeline, as well as, perhaps, supplementing a modest income. A recent article in the Financial Times stated:
...the creation of this huge new marketplace should be welcome. But to some city authorities, the explosive growth of home-sharing represents a threat to the regulated hotel sector, a nuisance to other residents and an incentive for landlords to convert long-term lets into more profitable holiday rentals, exacerbating housing shortages.
It can be argued that those landlords who let full properties to Airbnb guests would not let them to social housing tenants to the same extent, but at a time of an acute housing shortage surely some of them would or could so let. Equally, because of the shortage of hotel rooms in Dublin, with only one additional hotel coming on stream at the end of 2016 and only another half dozen to be delivered before the end of 2019, the argument in favour of Airbnb supplementing and augmenting the tourism room offering in the capital is compelling. However, we have no statistics or hard information, except that from Airbnb or monitoring websites. The website insideairbnb.com, for example, gives the following statistics for Dublin. In the capital there are a total of 6,225 listings of properties for sharing or renting. In the Dublin city area there is the largest number of properties available, almost 5,000, for an average of 119 nights per year. Furthermore, 48% of the listed properties are either apartments or houses which are available for full letting. In other local authority areas there are smaller, proportional numbers. According to the statistics, the average cost of an Airbnb room in Dublin is €102 per night, which compares with the cost of €129 for a hotel room. There are more than 2,000 properties listed in Dublin. These are not rooms or sharing opportunities but either homes or apartments which are available on Airbnb for full-time letting for 80% of the year.
What started out as a novel concept offering individuals who owned their own homes the opportunity to offer to travellers a room, rooms or their home to share or rent has exploded into a market impacting service with few ground rules, in which there is a lack of regulation, while there are issues around registration, tax compliance and planning laws. The evidence of landlords with multiple properties or individuals renting multiple properties and sub-letting them to Airbnb tenants, while undoubtedly entrepreneurial, has placed Airbnb very much on the radar of the hotel industry, housing and homelessness organisations, the Revenue Commissioners and, more recently, the independent planning authorities but not the legislators in these Houses. That is my purpose in raising the issue. As I stated, it is well past time we had this conversation about Airbnb. As the Financial Times puts it in its editorial:
[It] is not a reason to restrict home-sharing. It is rather an occasion for authorities around the world to look again at the regulation of overnight accommodation, consider which rules still make sense and ensure they apply to all businesses offering equivalent services.