Plan for curbs on ‘party house’ Airbnbs in Northern Ireland moves a step closer

A proposal to create a licencing system to halt the spread of Airbnbs has moved a step closer to reality.

Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 1:35 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 6:00 pm
A view of Belfast city centre, looking north-east, from Google Earth; the city centre is now home to a raft of Airbnbs

The motion was proposed by the SDLP’s Gary McKeown at Belfast City Council, and whilst it deals with Airbnbs in Northern Ireland’s capital specifically, it also opens the door to Province-wide curbs on such guest houses.

The first step was bringing it to the council’s Standards and Business Committee on Tuesday night.

Councillor McKeown says it was “rubber stamped” without dissent, which means it will now be brought before the full council on Monday.

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Given that nobody raised objections at the committee, councillor McKeown said “I’d like to think there’ll be unanimity” when the entire council takes a decision.

His motion reads as follows: “The council notes with concern the unregulated proliferation of Airbnbs and similar types of short-term lets in Belfast and the impact this is having on communities...

“Council therefore agrees to write to the Northern Ireland Executive requesting an urgent cross-departmental review of this issue, and the creation of a robust and effective regulatory and licensing system for properties.”

In short, what this would mean is capping the number of Airbnbs in a given area.

Airbnb is a global business which allows property owners to advertise their homes for rent on its website, and then takes a cut of each booking.

Fundamentally, the problems with this are twofold, councillor McKeown says.

Firstly, turning houses into short-term holiday accommodation – particularly near city centres – reduces the amount of housing stock available in what are often tight-knit working-class neighbourhoods.

And since a Belfast Airbnb can be anything up to £500-plus per night, it pushes price of housing up beyond the reach of local families.

Secondly, having new guests come and go every night undermines the regular residents’ well-being, particularly if the places become year-round “party houses”.

As to whether it will get cross-party backing on Monday, councillor McKeown told the News Letter: “I’d like to think so. In my experience it’s an issue across different communities in Belfast.”

As to what he would say to responsible Airbnb owners, he said: “That’s why I’ve not called for an outright ban.

“There are people who run a tight ship. This will help responsible owners because it’ll make it harder for people who aren’t to enter the market and undercut them.”

In addition to the Airbnb motion, a separate Green Party proposal to explore caps on private rental prices in Belfast is also likely to be debated on Monday, he said.

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