To anyone not paying close attention, the Government’s new Short-Term Tourist Letting Register sounds remarkably like a tourism initiative – an impression furthered by the central role of Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin in preparing the relevant legislation, as well as the presence of Fáilte Ireland chief executive Paul Kelly at Wednesday’s Merrion Street briefing.
But the proposals, though they might help Fáilte Ireland gain a clearer picture of where accommodation is available, are not really about tourism. They are about housing. If the State had no housing crisis it is debatable whether the Government would be forced to care about the current quota of 30,000 short-term tourism-letting properties – some 60-70 per cent of which are full houses or apartments.
Its latest announcement follows an earlier move to require people living in rent pressure zones to get planning permission if they let out a second property for short-term lets or do short-term lets adding up to more than 90 days in a year on their principal primary residence while away. It is this planning permission rule, combined with the future obligation to register the property with Fáilte Ireland, that lies behind the Government’s forecast that some 12,000 properties could return to the traditional long-term rental market.
Airbnb, the leading online booking platform, sometimes refers to the expanding set of regulations it now encounters across Europe under the heading “responsible hosting”, though it has naturally spent years lobbying to fend them off. Under the new Irish system it can be fined up to €5,000 for each listing of a property without a valid registration number.
It should be able to cope. The San Francisco-founded company’s main Irish-based subsidiary – which operates its online marketplace outside the US, China and part of Japan – posted pretax profits of $121.5 million (€116.9m) for 2021, with its directors observing “significant growth” in nights booked in 2022. Its phase of haemorrhaging employees at the outset of the pandemic appears to have protected it from the current technology sector retrenchment.
The company should also be used to such crackdowns on short-term lets by now. Several cities across Europe – including Paris, Barcelona and Amsterdam – have already introduced similar regulations, while a registration scheme is also in the works in the UK.
Here, the Government needs its prediction of 12,000 properties returning to the long-term rental market to come true almost as much as renters do. But this is unlikely to be a quick business. And, in the meantime, the housing crisis may get worse before it gets better.