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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 23 October, 2019
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AirBnb lobbied officials 49 times in two years on crackdown plan

With Dublin rent now averaging €500 above the boomtime figure, pressure is mounting on Minister Eoghan Murphy to act.

Image: Shutterstock/Ingus Kruklitis

WITH RENTS IN Dublin now averaging €500 above the boomtime figure, and just 3,070 properties available to rent across the country at the beginning of this month, pressure is mounting on Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy to take drastic action.

It’s been suggested that one quick-fire way to get rental stock back to a functioning level is to encourage or force landlords using AirBnb to get back into the normal rental market.

With AirBnb revealing this week that 640,000 guests will use the service in Ireland over the summer, Labour Senator Kevin Humphreys has insisted now is the time to follow in Berlin’s footsteps and bring in strict controls on short-term lets.

Such measures in the German capital brought 2,500 long-term rentals back onto the market over the course of a year, he said.

This isn’t a new idea. In fact, ever since Ireland’s homeless and housing crisis hit the headlines, there have been calls to deal with the lack of regulation of short-term lets.

It now looks like the minister will move to introduce regulations like so many other cities around the world, with suggestions a 60-day limit could be imposed on short-term rentals in Dublin. That means landlords could only earn money from guests sought out through websites like AirBnb for two months of the year.

In a letter to Sinn Féin’s Housing spokesperson, the minister confirms that proposals for a new licensing scheme will be brought to Cabinet for approval during September, “which should provide further clarity on the next steps and timeline to progress the matter in facilitating a more managed approach to short-term tourist lettings around the country”.

It adds that the new rules will also recognise the role of short-time lettings in the provision of tourist accommodation and reflecting the significant economic value generated by the sector.

Airbnb has previously said it welcomes talks on clear home sharing rules for Irish hosts. Earlier this summer and after almost two years of discussions, the company expressed concerns over the slow pace at which home sharing rules in Ireland are being developed.

The company said it has not seen any details of the proposals in Ireland.

On the proposed new regulations, a spokesperson for Airbnb told TheJournal.ie said:

We want to be regulated and have long-welcomed talks on clear home sharing rules. As the travel industry grows, home sharing ensures local families benefit from visitors to Ireland – not just hotel chains – and that tourism euros stay in local communities. We look forward to seeing the details of these proposals and to continue working with the government to support Irish people-powered-tourism.

Lobbying power 

But, why has the government been slow to act?

Lobbying, could be one answer.

Since 2016, the Lobbying Register lists 49 instances in which AirBnb lobbied officials.

One of the first meetings took place at Airbnb’s European headquarters on 21 January 2016 in which Airbnb executives met with Minister for Tourism Shane Ross, as well as his special adviser and the Assistant Secretary General of the department.

The meeting was to discuss “measures [which] should be pursued to ensure Airbnb’s continued growth in Ireland, how it can be used as a solution to issues of capacity and spread of tourism across all parts of Ireland”, according to the lobbying return.

At the opening of their new offices, the company also lobbied Mary Mitchell O’Connor, the Minister at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the time about Airbnb as a business and the “positive impacts home sharing is creating in Ireland”.

Blueline Consulting, acting on behalf of its client AirBnb, are listed as lobbying Dublin City Council in 2017 on the “current data on the impact of home-sharing in Dublin City” with a discussion taking place on Airbnb’s work internationally with municipal bodies to ensure responsible hosting.

In the same year, the company met with ministers and opposition TDs to discuss “ short-term lettings and home sharing in Ireland, it’s positive impact as well as ongoing Airbnb initiatives”.

Meetings were held with Junior Housing Minister Damien English, Deputy Chief Executive of Dublin City Council Brendan Kenny, Fianna Fáil’s Housing spokesperson at the time, Barry Cowen, TD Pat Casey, and Eoghan O’Brien, Councillor for Fingal County Council.

This year, the company also emailed its Insights report to the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, among many other TDs and ministers.

Calls for meetings with Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy

Q4PR, acting on behalf of its client AirBnb, called Minister Murphy to request a meeting be set up with AirBnb officials. This meeting did not end up taking place.

The PR company also spoke with the minister’s special adviser, Jack O’Donnell, to request a meeting with him. This meeting subsequently took place directly between Airbnb and Jack O’Donnell.

Sensing that the writing is on the wall in terms of some sort of regulation coming down the line for the industry, AirBnb held meetings with a number of ministers, councillors and Murphy’s special adviser this year.

The meetings were to discuss “the analysis and background of home sharing in Ireland and the need for a fair approach to the industry”.

Attendees included Minister Ciaran Cannon, Minister Pat Breen, Minister Brendan Griffin, Senator Kevin Humpreys, Fine Gael TDs Maria Bailey and Noel Rock, as well as Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy. The company also met with Cllr Anne Feeney, Cllr Deirdre Heney, Cllr Denise Brophy, and finally,  Minister Murphy’s special adviser Jack O’Donnell.

On that issue of lobbying, Airbnb said it wouldn’t have anything to add beyond what the lobby return itself outlines.

Concerns about AirBnb

As far back as 2014, there have been concerns about AirBnb and short-term lets impacting on the normal rental sector.

That year there were reports in the US that tenants were being evicted so landlords could use AirBnb. This was the same year the company announced that it was doubling its workforce in at their European HQ in Dublin.

As AirBnb became more popular, the Revenue Commissioners moved to clarify Ireland’s ‘Rent-a-Room’ tax relief to ensure that hosts on rental sites like Airbnb were officially liable for tax on that income.

Then in 2016, in one of the most high-profile cases, Dublin City Council ruled an apartment in Temple Bar listed on the site was not exempt from the requirement to get planning permission because of the change of use.

It forced the then-Housing Minister Simon Coveney to state that his department would look into clarifying guidelines on when a rental property becomes a commercial one.

The following year, with the rental crisis growing, the minister set up a working group to review if new regulations should be introduced for short-term letting websites.

When Eoghan Murphy took over as housing minister, he issued a circular to local authorities stating that apartments situated in rent pressure zones are not appropriate for Airbnb use. He also received the working group’s report, though it has yet to be published.

Earlier this year, John-Mark McCafferty, CEO of national housing charity Threshold, told TheJournal.ie that, during a time of “historically low supply” in the private rental sector, “Airbnb is taking up a share of units that would otherwise” be in the private market.

Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin, meanwhile, said there’s a “real frustration” with government’s lack of action on the issue, despite it being flagged for at least two years now.

With AirBnb latest report showing the business is thriving, juxtaposed with this week’s Daft.ie report that shows the rental sector is continuing to spiral out of the control, the minister might see it as a ‘win-win’ move to be seen as the man that took on AirBnb.

Meanwhile, Senator Humphreys has called for Airbnb to release the number of Irish properties listed on their website.

“If we want to tackle the negative impact short-term rentals are having on home availability, we need to know the scale of their use.”

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