Airbnb - the global online platform advertising rooms for rent, has boomed over the past few years. It’s now thought to be worth over £30bn.

For many, it is a cost effective and convenient service, and millions of hosts use the platform to turn their property into profit.

But Tonight’s programme: Airbnb: The True Cost? also explores the consequences of this stratospheric growth: with some communities feeling overwhelmed by the influx of short term visitors.

And could short term lettings companies be contributing to our housing crisis?

The good…

Having sadly lost her husband three years ago, Elene was suffering from loneliness. So when a friend suggested she open her home to visitors, she decided to try it out, and rent two rooms on Airbnb.

“I love it,” she told Tonight. “It's probably one of the best things I've done... The first year I did it I think I earned about £5000.”

Crackdown

There are thought to be around 230,000 Airbnbs across the UK - a threefold increase in the last three years. In Scotland, widespread concern about the influx of short term lets has resulted in the Scottish Government acting to give councils there new powers from 2021.

It means that many short lets in Scotland may require planning permission to operate, there will be more stringent safety regulations, and there will be a review of how they’re taxed.

Now Westminster MPs are demanding action, with Karen Buck MP - Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Short Lets - appearing on the programme to call for a register of all properties which are being rented through sites like Airbnb.

The cost to communities

Veronica’s home is ‘sandwiched’ between two properties which she says are frequently let out to parties of up to 19 people.

In Bath, Somerset, there are around 2000 Airbnb listings. Local resident Veronica’s home lies in between two entire homes rented out as short lets. They’re advertised as housing between 15 and 19 people. She says she’s affected by the noise from parties held - but also feels that her neighbourhood has been 'broken up' by the increase in short term lets, and says that the houses could be used for families in need of homes.

In Edinburgh Old Town, where one in six properties is now a short let, reporter Jonathan Maitland talks to residents who feel that their community is being hollowed out in favour of mass tourism and the ‘Disneyfication’ of their city.

Edinburgh resident Jamie lives in a block where 11 of the 15 flats are short lets.

And in London, where many councils have imposed a 90-night cap on short lettings, we hear how significant numbers of hosts are thought to be breaking the rules - but some councils just don’t have the resources to investigate.

Katrina Lamont, Planning Enforcement Officer at Camden Council, told Tonight:

“In 2019 we estimate that just over 7000 properties were short term let in ... Camden, and of that we estimate 48% exceeded the 90-night allowance, which is around 3,400 properties.”

Katrina Lamont, Planning Enforcement Officer at Camden Council

Responding to the programme, Airbnb told Tonight:

"We are good partners to cities and we have worked with more than 500 governments and organisations around the world to help hosts share their homes and follow the rules. We were the first platform to work with London to limit how often hosts can share their homes and we have led calls for a national registration system in the UK.”

Airbnb

The UK Short Term Accommodation Association said it is engaged with local authorities and government to ensure that the sector grows responsibly and sustainably with appropriate health and safety. They will consider a simple national registration scheme, but any regulations should be proportionate and should not disadvantage hosts and guests who behave responsibly.

'Airbnb: The True Cost?' is on ITV at 7:30pm on Thursday 20th February.

Useful LinksUK Short Term Accommodation AssociationScottish Government Regulation on Short LetsGovernment Rent a Room Scheme