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On St Augustine Street near Christ Church Cathedral in the south inner-city, the shadow of the word “Staycity” is still visible on a five-storey brick building, even though the signage is gone.
The Staycity aparthotel chain operated the block of 110 apartments at 42 to 76 St Augustine Street from 2008 to 2020 without planning permission to convert the homes to short-term lets.
Dublin City Council’s planning department investigated in 2015. But by then Staycity had been using the complex as an aparthotel for more than seven years.
“Dublin City Council are statute barred from taking action in respect of an ongoing use that commenced more than 7 years ago,” says a spokesperson for the council.
This is one of 21 such properties the council has discovered so far, that have been short-term lets for more than seven years, a spokesperson said.
Some councillors say the seven-year rule isn’t fair.
Dublin City Council says that 519 properties that were short-term lets are again being used as residential homes as a result of warnings it issued, since new regulations in July 2019.
But councillors fear many short-term-letting operators will start up again once Covid-19 restrictions are eased.
A spokesperson for Staycity says she is satisfied that the company is entitled to use all its properties for short-term lettings.
“Staycity occupied Augustine in 2008 as the first tenant of the building establishing use for short-term lets,” she said.
Could This Happen Again?
Operators who convert residential buildings to aparthotels do not need to apply for regularisation once seven years are up, says the council spokesperson.
That means that if a company has been operating short-term lets at a particular complex since 2015, they could legally establish that use by next year.
Airbnb grew in popularity in Dublin in 2015 and 2016. By 2016 some councillors were worried about the effect the short-term-let platform was having on housing supply.
In 2016, Dublin City Council said that converting an apartment to a short-term let was a change of use that required planning permission.
Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn says the council should have been more proactive in clamping down on these conversions, especially when the change-of-use was well advertised.
“Staycity had a big sign up on that building, which is a stone’s throw from the council offices and in a historic area,” he says.
He doesn’t agree with the seven-year rule, he says, as no one should be rewarded for breaching planning law. “It shouldn’t be the case. It’s outrageous.”
Says People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh: “It seems unfair on people who can’t get a secure tenancy.”
The enforcement process is not robust enough and the council doesn’t have sufficient resources to tackle short-term letting or to manage planning enforcement in general, MacVeigh says.
What is required is “an outright ban on short term lets unless they are purpose built”, she says.
The only exception to that should be people renting out a room in their own home, she says.
Staycity is no longer operating at St Augustine Street and the building is currently being used by Dublin City Council for a housing project, says the spokesperson for Staycity.
Staycity has also stopped using 18 apartments at 1 Jervis Street, says the spokesperson.
Since short-term-letting rules came into effect in July 2019, Dublin City Council has issued 952 warning letters instructing operators that they were in breach of planning law, says the council spokesperson.
In 519 of those cases the council closed the files because the use stopped, says the spokesperson.
Dublin City Council has also issued 25 enforcement notices during that time, she said.
Last November, a council planning officer said the council had seen tenancy agreements which showed landlords had switched their properties back from short-term lets to mainstream rentals, according to the Irish Times.
The owners “seem to have gone for a three- or six-month period in the main to see where the market would go, but quite a lot of them have changed to 12-month leases as well”, the planning officer said.
A lease of six months or less is not a permanent tenancy and the landlord can issue a notice of termination without providing the tenant with a reason.
MacVeigh says that means at least some of the short-term-let operators plan to resume that use (in breach of planning law) once Covid-19 restrictions end. “That is called keeping your options open.”
“I would suspect they will [resume short-term letting] for the simple reason that it is a more lucrative model than renting them normally,” she says.
Flynn says that he hasn’t noticed any large influx of rental accommodation in Dublin since Covid-19 restrictions, suggesting to him that many short-term let operators are willing to wait it out.