Airbnb helped my family and me out of a financial ‘pit’

New restrictions on Airbnb rentals will persuade some hosts to abandon the service. But the rules may be hard to enforce

Former Airbnb host Ceire Sadlier in her apartment in Townsend Street , Dublin in 2016. Photograph: Eric Luke

Former Airbnb host Ceire Sadlier in her apartment in Townsend Street , Dublin in 2016. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

When Ceire Sadlier was renting her apartment in Townsend Street Dublin – bought at the height of the boom – on Airbnb a couple of years ago, she attended a building residents’ meeting, where the issue of short-term lets surfaced. At the time, Sadlier and her family were in a financial “pit”, listing the apartment on the site in a bid to make ends meet.

“I remember one woman called me selfish, and she didn’t care about my financial circumstances. She still saw it as greedy,” recalls Sadlier, a writer. “It really affected her – meeting strangers in the hallway, not feeling safe in the block – and I felt bad for being a part of that.”

Ever since Airbnb’s meteoric rise – and meteoric it has been, with a global €93 million profit in 2017 alone – similar accusations have dogged many Airbnb landlords.

There may be a million reasons for listing a room or property on the site, whether financial or social, but one narrative appears to have stuck: Irish Airbnb landlords, in the chase for a quick buck, are having an effect on an already-dwindling housing stock.

Statistics generated by Airbnb for 2017 observed that around 7,000 Irish properties being rented on Airbnb are not the primary homes of their owners. This is roughly a third of all listings (8,500 last year in Dublin and 22,800 nationwide).

During that period, hosts in Ireland generated €115 million in revenue; roughly 60 per cent of that was spent on properties in the capital. And certainly, Airbnb has moved on from its original ethos – a sort of gussied-up couch-surfing model where people could pay to lay their head and mainline right into the local culture with like-minded types – to something much more similar to a traditional hotel/B&B setup.

It was revealed earlier this week that in Barcelona, one Airbnb host reportedly manages a rental portfolio worth €37,721 a day, suggesting there is some truth to the idea that the site is fast becoming a marketing site for big landlords, rental agents and hotels.

Given the inexorable rise of Airbnb in Ireland, things were always going to come to a head. This week, it was revealed by Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy that Airbnb landlords will face limitations while renting their properties on a short-term basis from June 2019.

According to new directives, only principal residences or family homes can be rented on a short-term basis on Airbnb and similar services. In addition, they will not be allowed to rent for more than 14 days at a time, or for longer than 90 days a year. Professional landlords will have to secure a commercial planning permission to lease their properties.

Owners of buy-to-let properties will have to get planning permission from local councils if they want to use their second homes or apartments for short-term lets, for more than three months every year.

Councils will have the power to refuse permission to owners of such properties to use them for full-time, short-term lettings.

Murphy has said that between 1,000 and 3,000 homes in the greater Dublin area, currently available for holiday lettings, could come back into the long-term rental market as a result of the measure. The aim is to “unlock stock”, he said.

Interior designer Karen O’Rourke is an Airbnb “superhost”, and has been renting out her Rathgar property, in which she lives, for just over three years. She does so partly for financial reasons, partly for social reasons (“about 60/40, I’d say”).

Speaking of this week’s statement by Eoghan Murphy, O’Rourke notes: “My first reaction was that [Airbnb] will go on back to what it was about in the first place, and that has to be good.”

In the summer months, O’Rourke says that her house is occupied by Airbnb visitors 75 per cent of the time.

“I don’t think I’d have done more than 90 days a year anyway, but I’m not sure I understand why they would put a 90-day limit once it’s your own home,” she says. “I think when it comes to someone’s second, third or fourth properties, those properties will have to go back onto the market, but for someone like me, the house will never be [part of the rental market]. I’m not sure how it will affect the amount of properties available to long-term) rent.”

Ceire Sadlier lives in a rental property in Donnycarney with her family, and recently “went sale agreed” on her Townsend Street apartment. “As a renter, I knew that by taking my apartment out of the housing market meant there were fewer rentals, and as a tenant that meant my rent was going up too,” she admits.

“When we moved home from living abroad a few years ago, we were getting €900 a month rent for the apartment, and then we heard of Airbnb,” Sadlier explains. “My job circumstances changed and it worked out for our family at the time.

“More recently, we found that we could get €1,700 a month [in rent] for the same apartment. If I was getting €1,700 at the time, I wouldn’t have put it on Airbnb. I was making around €2,000 a month on Airbnb, but making beds and cleaning the apartment every day wouldn’t be worth the extra €300 for many people.”

As to whether O’Rourke will avail of other online platforms to rent her property out with fewer restrictions (for example homestay sites), she is unsure for now: “I’ve had language students rent rooms before but this is a whole other ball game. You’re cooking and cleaning for them. With Airbnb, people are out and about seeing the city, so you (as a host) are much freer. And, because people are getting reviewed by you too, they really do have to respect your house as well,” she notes.

Former Irish Times travel writer Joan Scales, who now runs regular seminars on Airbnb hosting, is skeptical about the proposed changes to short-term let sites: “Can [the 90-day cap] be regulated? Of course not,” she says. “You could get the [accommodation] agencies involved to report how many nights a year people are renting out for, but no-one is going to go knocking on doors to see who is staying there, and for how long.

“When they brought in regulations around paying tax [on rental income], everyone was up in arms about, but look at the numbers – double the people are renting on Airbnb now. I don’t think these new changes will have an effect on listings numbers whatsoever.”