A short-term rental in the city centre. Photo by Lois Kapila.

The share of Airbnb hosts in Dublin renting out “entire homes” on the platform who appear to be professional operators has been growing.

In 2016, 36 percent of entire homes that were offered on the platform were rented out for more than 90 days, which is a good indicator that the host is not living in the property.

In 2017, that figure rose to 42 percent, and in 2018 (through November), it rose again – to 46 percent.

That means that 2,856 entire homes were rented out for more than 90 days in 2018, almost double the 1,524 in 2016.

This data, scraped by AirDNA, is only for Airbnb — it does not include other short-term let platforms like booking.com.

The ‘entire homes’ in Dublin were fairly evenly split, with 3,398 home-sharers, who are renting their homes for less than 90 days, and 2,856 that appear to be commercial short-term lets.

Commercial short-term lets are advertised much more frequently than home-shares, so it is likely that, on any given day, the majority of entire homes available to rent on the site are businesses, rather than someone’s home.

Going Pro

There has also been a four-fold increase in the number of hosts with three or more entire homes operating through Airbnb in Dublin.

Back in 2015 there were 86 hosts with three or more such properties on the platform, but that number had risen to 331 by November 2018.

According to scraped data from Inside Airbnb, the host with the most listings in the Dublin area was named Brian and he had 55 listings on Airbnb.

Some “entire homes” are purpose-built, serviced apartments. One large apart-hotel company, Staycity, confirmed that they do advertise through Airbnb. However, most of the listings in Dublin appear to be residential homes. Converting a home into a short-term let without planning permission is a breach of planning law.

A spokesperson for Airbnb says: “Around 80% of hosts in Ireland share their own home to boost their income and we continue to add more accommodation categories to support our growing community, including boutique hotels, B&Bs and serviced apartments.”

A typical host in Dublin earns €4,100 per year by sharing their home for around four nights a month, she says. Seventy-nine percent of hosts are sharing a space in their own home, or are sharing their own home when they are away.

Airbnb Supporting Professionals

Airbnb has a section on its site aimed at assisting professional operators – which it deems to be hosts with six or more properties.

There are a range of tools available for such hosts to help set prices, manage multiple listings, and the like. According to the spokesperson such operators do not get preferential treatment on the site searches and cannot pay to “boost” posts, like advertisers can do on Facebook.

But there is also a pro-marketing tools page which helps professional hosts to advertise their Airbnb listings on Facebook and Twitter.

Then there is the issue of “Instant Book”. When Airbnb was first launched, the reviews operated as a kind of safety feature. Most people were sharing their own home on the platform and they checked out the guest’s reviews before accepting a booking.

Airbnb has been pushing to increase the number of properties available on the site that guests could book straight away without going through the bother of requesting to book and then waiting for a response.

(USA Today reported that this feature was added as part of Airbnb’s anti-racism drive, to let guests book without hosts having a look at their profile and deciding whether to accept the booking.)

On online forums, some hosts have queried whether those who turn on the “Instant Book” feature come up higher in searches. Airbnb didn’t respond to queries as to whether this is true, and whether this feature could be a deterrent to genuine home-sharers.

“Guests that meet the requirements set by a host and by Airbnb are able to use Instant Book,” says the company spokesperson. “Guests must also agree to a host’s House Rules before booking.” Further requirements can also be set by hosts, she says.

Alarm Bells

Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn has been trying to raise the alarm about the impact of short-term-let companies on the city’s housing crisis for several years now.

He says that he is not at all surprised by the new statistics, given the number of complaints that he gets from people living in the city centre.

Anti-social behaviour and parties by people staying in Airbnb apartments are now a widespread issue, he says, especially in the city centre. “The city centre isn’t holding,” says Flynn.

Elsewhere in Europe, such as in Amsterdam and Berlin, the authorities manage Airbnb and manage visitor numbers, he says. According to Flynn, Dublin City Council have shown “no proactivity in demanding that these are flats are returned to residential lets”.

Back in September, the council were still looking into 74 complaints that were raised in 2017, and less than a quarter of all those reported that year had resulted in properties being returned to long-term leases.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has said that he will introduce measures to tackle short-term letting this June, but the legislation has not yet been presented to the Dáil.

According to a spokesperson for the Department of Housing, Murphy favours regulations in line with recommendations set down by the Joint Committee on Housing last year.

The committee recommended that casual short-term lettings of up to 90 days in a given year should be exempt from planning permission. Any short-term letting in excess of 90 days should require change-of-use planning permission. And the minister has said that this permission would be unlikely to be granted in areas of high housing demand.

Genuine home-sharers would still need to apply for a licence and register with the local authority and the Revenue Commissioners also.

Flynn suggests that these proposed new regulations won’t work – unless there are strong penalties and specialist enforcement units established.

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing says the council’s planning-enforcement units will continue to be responsible for enforcing the new regulations, and they will get extra resourcing.

Enforcement proceedings will continue to be implemented in the same way as they have been to date – a slow and cumbersome process which involves the local authority having to go to court.

“There are already extensive enforcement provisions provided for in Part 8 of the Planning Act,” says the Department of Housing spokesperson.

In theory at least, failing to comply with the enforcement notice could even result in a prison sentence. The penalty on summary conviction is a “€5,000 fine, 6 month prison sentence, or both”. The continued contravention of planning law after that should incur a further €1,500 fine for each day it continues, and the offender risks further prison sentences.

The department spokesperson said the current enforcement procedures are effective. “Officials in the Department have been engaging with Dublin City Council who have taken a proactive and focussed approach to using the enforcement provisions in the Planning Act to enforce against short term letting, which breach the planning code,” they said.

The spokesperson for Airbnb says short-term lets are not the problem, and that Ireland simply needs to build more houses. “House building per capita in Ireland is the fourth lowest in the EU and population growth is five times the EU average,” she said.

Anti-Social Behaviour

Since genuine home-share hosts are letting guests stay in their own homes – with all their belongings there – it seems likely that they will be careful about who they rent to.

However, short-term letting companies might not be so fussy. Several Dublin residents have complained about anti-social behaviour from guests who booked through illegal short-term let companies that operate through Airbnb.

But, according to Airbnb, even with millions of people using the platform around the world “negative experiences are extremely rare”. They also go above and beyond to stop anti-social behaviour before it even happens, the spokesperson says.

“Unlike other platforms, Airbnb uses sophisticated technologies and behavioural analysis systems to help prevent potentially troublesome hosts or guests from utilising Airbnb in the first place,” she says. “Each and every Airbnb reservation is scored ahead of time for risk to prevent incidents from happening in the first place.”

Airbnb have recently added a new feature – the Neighbour Tool – which allows people to share concerns about an Airbnb property near them. Neighbours can do this anonymously, or they can ask the host in question to contact them.

Airbnb also run “roadshows” to remind hosts of the rules and regulations. “Hosting is a big responsibility and those who fail to meet our standards may be subject to suspension or removal,” says the spokesperson.

“While we have no evidence to support any link to a rise in anti-social behaviour in Ireland, we take a zero-tolerance approach and permanently remove bad actors from our platform,” she says.

In correspondence seen by Dublin Inquirer – and shared with Airbnb – at least one Dublin resident, Stephane Lagarde, did not find the Airbnb anti-social behaviour procedures to be zero-tolerance in nature.

Last November, Lagarde said that an illegal short-term letting company, operating through Airbnb from his residential apartment complex on Railway Street in the city centre, was causing a major disturbance.

He sent video and photographic evidence of damage caused to the building and property, as well as late-night parties and noise disturbances. He had forwarded all of these to his management company and to Dublin City Council. Lagarde had also complained to the Fire Brigade and reported incidents to the Gardaí.

He also complained to Airbnb on several occasions. At first Airbnb said that they had shared Lagarde’s complaint with his neighbour, the illegal short-term let operator, and had provided the host with some suggestions to resolve the issue.

When Lagarde continued to complain, Airbnb informed him by email that they wouldn’t get involved in the issue. “We shared your complaint with your neighbor, but we’re unable to take further action or mediate disputes regarding violations of local laws or 3rd party agreements,” said Airbnb.

Rather than taking action against the host for the disturbances to residents in the building, when he was an illegal operator, Airbnb told Lagarde to complain to others. Just not them.

“If you’re in the same building, we recommend contacting your landlord, homeowner’s association, housing authority, or other party to help resolve this issue,” said the email.

“Thank you for helping to improve our community,” they added.

Laoise Neylon is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at lneylon@dublininquirer.com.

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