A CRACKDOWN on Airbnb-style short term lets will be rolled out before next summer – amid calls to ensure any new rules help ease the pressure on housing markets across Scotland.

The Scottish Government had put its plans to introduce a licensing regime on hold amid the Covid-19 pandemic, along with a raft of other legislation that will not see the light of day before next year’s Holyrood election.

But Housing Minister Kevin Stewart will fast track handing new powers over to councils in the coming months – with the intention that the new regulations are in place before Holyrood is dissolved for next year’s poll.

While the licensing rules, which could include local authorities being handed the power to set up “short-term let control areas” under planning regulations, will be welcomed by authorities in Edinburgh, tourism bosses in Skye, which has an even higher concentration of the controversial accommodation, have warned businesses do not want “an additional administrative burden for next season”.

In Edinburgh, evidence suggests the explosion of short term lets is contributing to a housing crisis – with the fall in available homes for rent coinciding with the surge in Airbnb listings.

In the capital’s city centre, more housing stock is now available for short term lets than for traditional private rented homes.

A report has also suggested that only one in 500 Airbnb listings in Edinburgh have planning permission.

Council officials in the capital pleaded with short term let owners to hand over their properties to help shelter the city’s homeless population during the Covid-19 lockdown, but a licensing regime being introduced could lead to Airbnb rentals being banned in tenement flats with shared stairs.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Edinburgh Airbnb flats help solve homelessness crisis

Concerns have been raised over the restart of the short term lets industry in Edinburgh from July 15, when restrictions were lifted for the tourism industry.

Residents and campaigners had pleaded for short term lets to remain closed with the virus still a threat to public health, but Mr Stewart warned there were “no grounds for delaying the reopening of self-catering accommodation with shared facilities”.

He added: “I understand the concerns of Edinburgh residents in tenements, and others with shared facilities, but we have to be guided by the medical and scientific advice.”

In a letter to Holyrood’s local government committee, Mr Stewart has confirmed that “having paused work on the regulation of short-term lets to deal with the pandemic, we have now resumed our work”.

He added: “We aim to lay the regulations giving local authorities powers to license short-term lets and introduce control areas in December so that they can be in force by spring 2021.

“As part of preparation to do this, we will be engaging stakeholders on our detailed proposals in autumn.

“The delay caused by Covid-19 necessitates that this will be a shorter period of engagement than originally planned but we will make sure that the process is effective in refining our proposals and finalising the statutory instruments.”

The new powers will allow councils the ability to to introduce short term lets control areas, and to “carefully and urgently review the tax treatment of short-term lets”, which would “ensure they make an appropriate contribution to local communities and support local services”, Mr Stewart added.

READ MORE: Council set to take over short-term lets in the capital and use them as homeless accommodation

Edinburgh City Council has previously published what it would like to see in a licensing regime, including the ability cap the number of short term lets in certain parts of the city and ensuring properties comply with health and safety rules - while addressing residents’ complaints over anti-social behaviour.

The council’s housing convener, Kate Campbell, said: “We’ve identified that licensing is the best route for us to be able to properly control short term lets and prevent the negative impacts that they have had on our city and our residents.

“We’ll continue to take action through planning, addressing antisocial behaviour and frankly any route open to us, but we know the game changer for Edinburgh will be a licensing regime. So we’re delighted that this work is progressing at the Scottish Parliament and we will get the powers we need to protect homes and communities."

But politicians have warned that the plans will not go far enough to halt the impact the industry is reportedly having on communities.

Scottish Greens housing spokesperson, Andy Wightman, has led calls for greater regulation of short term lets.

He said: “The Covid crisis has really shone a light the impact of unlawful short term lets, especially where they occur in shared buildings. Any licensing scheme needs to be robust and recognise the impact this poorly regulated market has had on housing provision, as well as the impact these properties have on the surrounding community.

“The Scottish Government proposals must go further. For example, it’s clear that no licenses should be issued unless proper planning consent is in place. Each successful application is another home taken out of use, so councils must have the ability to reject applications based on the impact on their jurisdiction.”

Labour local government spokesperson, Sarah Boyack, added: “I welcome the fact that ministers have listened to concerns about the potential delay to the introduction of new licensing powers for short term lets to local authorities and have resumed work on their proposals.

“The key issue is that the control areas which local councils will have the power to establish will deliver effective regulation and accountability."

“We have an urgent shortage of housing in Edinburgh so I will be keen to see the details proposed by ministers to deliver the taxation promised to ensure “an appropriate contribution to local communities and support local services” given the massive pressure council finances are currently facing due to years of underfunding.”

Before the pandemic, a new study revealed that almost one in five homes on Skye is listed on Airbnb.

But tourism leaders on the island have warned that any draconian rules could hit businesses as it attempts to recover from the Covid-19 crisis.

A spokesman for SkyeConnect said: “It is hard to project ahead to this time next year but we would like to think the Scottish Government would recognise the strain that has been placed on the tourism industry this year and not add an additional administrative burden for next season.

“Short-term lettings are a significant part of the tourism economy on Skye and we recognise there are some issues which will need to be addressed. However, we are not convinced a licensing system is necessarily the way forward and we need time to consider other options."

“In general terms, SkyeConnect is actively promoting a more slow-paced and sustainable visitor experience where people stay longer and experience more of the landscape, culture and history of Skye.”