Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Questions (33)

Barry Cowen

Question:

33. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the steps he will to take to regulate short-term lettings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9730/18]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Housing)

Last year my colleague, Deputy Pat Casey, initiated a proposal for the housing committee to undertake a study and make recommendations on the regulation of short-term lettings. Airbnb has encouraged this type of letting which can impact further on the availability of conventional units in the rental market and contribute to the unfortunate and ridiculous rent increases we have seen, with the lack of available units to address the problem. The report contained 13 recommendations. This issue has been raised by me and others in the past two years and the Department committed to carrying out a similar study and coming back with recommendations. Will the Minister consider the recommendations made by the committee which was representative of all parties and none? There is universal approval for its approach.

Under action 18 of the strategy for the rental sector, my Department established a working group in June 2017 with representatives of all major public stakeholders with a policy interest in short-term lettings to develop guidance on planning applications and changes of use relating to short-term lettings and to examine the need for new regulatory arrangements. The proposals under consideration by the working group are aimed at facilitating short-term letting of accommodation within permanent residences, known as home sharing, while protecting existing stock of residential property in areas of high demand, safeguarding neighbourhood amenity and consumer protection, and generating revenue to address any negative externalities of short-term letting.

The working group completed guidance for local authorities on planning applications relating to short-term lettings, and my Department issued a circular on the matter last October. The group is now working on proposals for an appropriate comprehensive regulatory approach for short-term tourism related lettings as well as identification of amendments to legislation that may be necessary to give effect to such regulation. The draft report of the working group is being finalised and I will consider its recommendations when they are received before initiating a targeted public consultation on the proposals.

The short answer is the Minister is not yet ready to make recommendations apart from those that went to local authorities as to how they might be classified. Will the Minister tell me when he expects this task force to make proposals? When can this Dáil expect a debate on recommendations the Minister makes? When can this Dáil scrutinise and subsequently approve those recommendations to ensure this sector is properly regulated and this issue can no longer impinge upon the availability of rental units in the marketplace which is only contributing to the record levels being sought?

Following the issuing of a circular by my Department to local authorities last year, we are very close to a set of recommendations coming to me in approximately six weeks or by mid-April. At the same time, Dublin City Council is carrying out a study on short-term letting and we are reviewing the proposals from the joint committee's report. I have read those proposals and support many of them. I have looked at licensing arrangements in other cities relating to home sharing, which I support. The licensing arrangements that are in place seem to make a lot of sense. Airbnb produced some figures recently. While they are Airbnb's figures, what is interesting is that 70% of hosts on the platform in Ireland engage in home sharing, which involves people giving up their primary private residence for a weekend here or there or a week while they are away on holidays. What we have also seen from Airbnb's data is that the highest average number of nights being let over the course of a year is 53, which is well short of the 90 days recommended by the joint committee. If we were to move to a system of 90 days, for example, it would be well in excess of the highest average number of nights for short-term lettings in the country at the moment. As I said earlier, recommendations will come to me in the next number of weeks, at which point I will be able to engage with the committee and be able to go out to public consultation on the new measures we propose to introduce.

Under no circumstances do we have a problem with home sharing and the options people have in that realm. This is about the other 30%, those who, on a full-time basis, offer their property for short-term lettings. Up to 2,000 of these properties will be available in Dublin tonight. I take on board the Minister's response, belated as it is, that recommendations will emanate from this task force in April, and I look forward to the Dáil having an opportunity to work with the Minister to ensure that legislation is forthcoming, this sector is regulated, and that it is not allowed to continue to contribute towards exorbitant rents in cities throughout the country.

It is probably worth noting that legislation will more than likely be required. When that legislation is ready, we can move with it as quickly as possible in this House because both the Deputy and I support the objective of home sharing and the shared economy with the great benefit it brings our tourism industry, cultural exchange and people who let their home while on holidays themselves to help them meet other bills. This is all welcome. We do need to make sure, particularly at the moment, that we are not losing long-term private rental accommodation to this particular part of the market which could better serve the needs of our citizens who are living here.