Regulate short-term rental platforms like Airbnb before tourism picks up, says Housing Minister

Discussions on how Ireland could regulate short-term rental platforms like AirBnb are ongoing between the Housing Department and the Tourism Department.

Regulations in the region that came into effect last year only allow housing sharing when a house is a person’s primary residence and is in designated “rent pressure zones”.

As of last July, colocation – where people rent out part or all of their homes for a period of time, usually to tourists visiting the country – can only operate within strict limits that can be controlled by local authorities. .

In an interview with TheJournal.frHousing Minister Darragh O’Brien said he had officially written to Tourism Minister Catherine Martin on the progress of the problem, and that a group of senior officials had been set up “to work on it a bit ”.

“Now is the time to do it,” said O’Brien, explaining that with tourism virtually non-existent due to the pandemic, now is the time to make changes.

“I really think there is an opportunity. Listen, there is a role for short-term rental in our hospitality industry, of course, but that can’t be disproportionate.

“You see them in cities like Galway, where there is really an oversupply. Regulating short term rental platforms, I think, is a very important thing that we should be doing.

“I had initial discussions with Minister Catherine Martin, which were rather positive. I think it is really time to do it before tourism resumes, ”he said.

His predecessor Eoghan Murphy had wanted to introduce platform regulation, along with enforcement rules, but said it was a matter for the Tourism Ministry at the time.

Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin O’Broin said there should be a state obligation for companies, like Airbnb, to share rental information with local authorities because this would make the job of executing the advice “much easier”.

Despite the new regulations, he said people can still look on a number of other platforms and see the properties that have been advertised.

He said Dublin City Council needed to verify that landowners had applied for an exemption or a building permit that would allow them to rent out their property, and if not, hit them with enforcement notices.

He said businesses should also be required to share their guest and booking information with Revenue, to make sure everyone is in compliance with tax obligations.

Buy short term rentals

Earlier, O’Brien had said the state was planning to buy properties that, before the pandemic, were for rent on short-term rental platforms. Many properties were empty.

There has been an increase in the number of rental properties available in Ireland and elsewhere as old short-term rentals have returned to the market amid travel restrictions.

“In fact, I tried to buy a number of them as Minister of Housing. We have had it, but not as many as I would have liked, ”he said.

He now believes that regulating the platforms themselves is the way to go, saying that while the implementing regulations were passed by the last government, under the leadership of Minister Murphy, they were not supported by the resources they needed to complete the application.

O’Brien said funding and resources have now been given by his department to local authorities.

“But we have to go further in regulating the platforms, in my opinion,” he said of their focus for the future.

The government’s housing plan

While last week’s Cabinet meeting was dominated by the announcement that Covid-19 restrictions were to be reimposed after Christmas Day, other important housing legislation has also been approved and may be -be somewhat unnoticed.

Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin has always asked where the government’s affordable housing plan is, recently telling Dáil that it was promised in September.

The Housing Minister does not agree with the head of Sinn Fein that this government is not serious in its fight against the housing crisis.

In fact, O’Brien is making big promises to make a dent in the housing crisis next year.

Regarding affordable rentals, he said 400 rentals would be available in 2021. In the recent Dáil, McDonald pointed out that this was 50 less than what was previously promised in the budget.

“These are people who are above the social assistance threshold and who are working, and the rent will be a minimum, and I say a minimum, 25% below the market price, with a long lease. So it’s a whole new model of housing delivery, ”said O’Brien.

When asked when people would actually be living in these low-cost homes, he replied from the middle of next year. “So from July or August, that kind of time. We need to pass the legislation, but I have already launched the appeal because the appeal is mainly aimed at accredited housing organizations to present their projects. And these programs must be ready in 2021. “

“We are going to be oversubscribed, but I have to start it next year,” he added.

Affordable housing

Affordable housing on communal or state-owned land or what is known as the service sites fund, will deliver more than 6,000 housing units, the minister said.

Under the fund, € 310 million is already available to provide infrastructure to support the delivery of more affordable housing on local authority land.

Despite this, the fund did not deliver a single house.

“Some will do it in 2021 … but we need to speed up delivery quickly, so I’m making changes to this bill that I got approved today at the service sites fund, to make it easier for boards to deliver. affordable housing, “O. ‘Brien said when asked about it.

Another item on the minister’s list for next year is the government’s cost equity model – a plan that will see the state take up to 30% of a home’s equity with a first-time buyer.

“The people who are renting now are paying with their noses. They can’t afford to save enough to get a mortgage, ”he said. The minister has pledged to bring the bill to the House in the first quarter of next year, with the goal of having the bill in place by the end of the second quarter.

Equity regime

In the first year, he wants to finance around 2,000 affordable housing units through the stock purchase program. “I have always been very clear and as a party Fianna Fáil has always been very clear. We believe in home ownership. I don’t apologize for that. I think this is an honest and fair aspiration for people, ”he said.

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Explaining how this might work, the minister said that if a single person or a couple applied for a mortgage and they are approved for € 250,000, but the house they need is € 310,000, the government will close the “affordability gap” of around € 20,000.

“They can apply for the equity mortgage, the equity loan, so the state will take that equity up to 30% of the house, it could be less, it could be 10%. And you’ll just pay for a service and charge for that when you sell the house.

“Yes, the state is recovering this part. But you don’t have to, and you pay a service fee in real terms. It will help people, ”he said.

Some have criticized the plan, saying it could raise house prices, while others said the UK program has prevented some people from repaying the state loan portion of the mortgage.

Although the UK program is not identical to the Irish plan, O’Brien said he saw a 15% increase in supply.

Purchase assistance grants of up to € 30,000 will remain in place until next year, said O’Brien, who added that he sees the grant and the equity package. operate side by side “.

The affordable program, which will be part of the Housing for All plan to be released next year, is expected to be operational by June or July 2021, the minister said.

Any “potential problem” of people not repaying sections of the loan “will be addressed in the guidance we issue,” he said.

The Minister of Housing confirmed that the government will not meet its target of delivering social housing this year, due to the impact of Covid-19 and the closure of the construction sector in the first half of the year.

Missed goals

As part of the Rebuilding Ireland plan, the delivery of more than 11,100 new social housing units through construction, acquisition and rental programs is promised, including more than 7,700 through construction mechanisms.

Even if he said the government had made up some lost ground, the target will be missed. O’Brien said 2020 will only reach about 75% to 80% of the 11,100 target – so between 8,325 and 8,800, according to his estimate.

While the number of people accessing emergency accommodation fell slightly between October and November, the minister believes the figures are still too high.

In the midst of this, Focus Ireland called on the government to introduce a broader deportation ban until April 2021. Its CEO Pat Dennigan has raised concerns about the link between the deportation ban and restrictions on deportation. Covid-19.

Last month, the eviction ban and rent freeze for those in financial difficulty were extended until at least April.

The minister said that if illegal evictions occur, they should be reported.

“I take this very, very seriously. This department does it, and so do the other agencies. I did not bring it to my personal attention. I had one a few weeks ago, which I referred to and which is under investigation, ”he said.

“Nobody, nobody should be in arrears on rent because of losing their job during the pandemic,” O’Brien added, adding that supports are in place, and if people are worried about rent arrears , they can request protection via a self-declaration on the department’s website.

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