Spread of Airbnbs in Belfast could ‘rip heart out of neighbourhoods’

A call has been made for Airbnbs to be licensed and regulated, with one Belfast councillor saying their unchecked spread poses a real risk to community life.
Prices for a single night in a Belfast Airbnb (checking in this coming Saturday, leaving Sunday) ranged from £53 to £510Prices for a single night in a Belfast Airbnb (checking in this coming Saturday, leaving Sunday) ranged from £53 to £510
Prices for a single night in a Belfast Airbnb (checking in this coming Saturday, leaving Sunday) ranged from £53 to £510

The issue is to be brought forward for discussion at Belfast City Council tomorrow (Tuesday), when its Standards and Business Committee meets at 5.30pm.

It has been put forward by SDLP councillor Gary McKeown, whose represents the student-heavy Botanic area.

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Airbnb is a global business which does for houses what Uber does for private cars – it allows owners to hire out their property to customers, whether it is in an urban towerblock or a rural cottage.

The owners put photographs and a description of their dwelling on the AirBNB website and the company makes its money by charging a commission on every booking that is made.

The News Letter has today checked availability in the city for this coming weekend for two people.

Prices for a single night ranged from £53 to £510.

The results showed 19 Airbnbs in south Belfast, 19 in the east, two in west Belfast, and four in north Belfast – with another 11 in the city centre.

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However, Airbnbs can drop off the listings if the owners are renovating them, or are simply on a hiatus, so councillor McKeown says there is no way of telling how many there truly are.

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 NI Executive requesting an urgent cross-departmental review of this issue, and the creation of a robust and effective regulatory and licensing system for properties intended for use as short-term lets of this type.”

This would mean gaining the ability to create zones of “special concern”, where a cap would be placed on the number of Airbnbs.

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Speaking to the News Letter, councillor McKeown said there are a variety of reasons for this.

One is bad behaviour by visitors;. For example, if a group hires an Airbnb for a long weekend of partying, and causes chaos in the process, it is harder to deal with the culprits than if they were regular, full-time tenants.

Another is that Airbnbs could push up house prices in working-class or low-income neighbourhoods, reduce the housing stock available to locals.

“The motivation is a lot of people are coming through to me, particularly closer to the city centre, who are finding more and more homes that would’ve been potentially residential are being flipped to Airbnbs.

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“There’s no consultation with neighbours; they don’t know any day of the week who’s going to be staying in the house.”

If unchecked, this can mean “essentially the heart is ripped out of them because you don’t have that community cohesion.”

Added to which, would-be locals are being “priced out of the market” – creating what could be “new Holylands” in the city (a reference to the former working-class area of Belfast which is now largely dominated by short-term student lets, with few long-term residents).

More from this reporter:

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Ben Lowry