Homes First- the Astonishing Revelations about the Scale of Illegal STLs in Edinburgh

On the day Homes First publish their survey results an extraordinary picture emerges of a completely unregulated market that has disfigured housing and ruined communities in the capital. The scale of the illegality is staggering, and the fact that short-term lets (mostly Air BnB) are also benefiting from 100% tax breaks through the Small Business Bonus Scheme totalling £4.7 million is astonishing. “Running an illegal business? Come get 100% tax relief!” So here’s the latest on entire-home short-term lets in Edinburgh: they number between 6,587 and 9,409. 52% are in the City Centre & Leith Walk Wards. 22% of buildings have three or more short-term lets. 75% are not registered to pay non-domestic rates and are therefore fleecing the city. So as we try and plan urban “recovery” from covid, read this and consider the city government is already trying to get this disgraceful business model back up and running as soon as they can.

This from a thread by Andy Wightman:

Today, we publish important findings on the extent of unlawful short-term lets in Edinburgh. Since we launched the #homesfirst campaign in 2017, we have been keen to better understand the extent of short-term lets across Edinburgh.

Scraped data from InsideAirBnB has been useful but it only includes properties on the AirBnB platform (there are many others) and it includes large numbers where the owners is home-sharing in their own home.

Our principal concern has been commercial short-term lets – domestic properties that are no longer anyone’s home and are operated as commercial businesses. of most concern have been those in shared tenement stairs.

To better understand the extent of these we launched a survey in January at Homes First today we publish the results. The most remarkable finding is that of 477 commercial business properties identified, only 1 has planning consent.

Commercial short-term lets are a sui genesis (in a class of their own) Use Class and if a flat is covered to a STL it requires to apply for planning consent if the change of use is material.

Consistent case law and indeed Edinburgh Council’s own planning policy is to refuse planning consent in shared stairs. So to find that only one out of 477 has consent is a staggering pattern of unlawful activity for which no-one appears to be accountable.

Other findings include that 47% of people have 2 or more STLs in their stair and 22% have 3 or more. Imagine living with these illegal businesses and all the disturbance associated with them.

These commercial short-term lets are also benefiting from 100% tax breaks through the Small Business Bonus Scheme totalling £4.7 million. So illegal businesses get 100% tax relief.

By comparing the survey findings with the Lothian Valuation Roll, our current best estimate of the numbers of commercial short-term lets in Edinburgh is 6587 which, if the 1 out of 477 is scaled up means only 14 properties have planning consent in the City.

Most properties also have title conditions prohibiting business use – routinely flouted. All of which raises vital legal questions of liability in event of any accidents such as fire. Will damage two neighbouring property be insured, for example?

To conclude, this survey reveals the epic scale of unlawful business operating across the City and the rapacious character of many of the operators. With all businesses allowed to open on 15 July it is important to report what is happening.

You can continue to report properties you known of at and any covid-19 issues at For enforcement action on planning, go to Report a Problem.

Important reminder that @PLACEEdinburgh provide excellent resources and support on this topic. Please follow and join their grassroots research & campaigning.

Read the full Homes First survey report here:


Comments (10)

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  1. MBC says:

    Why are HMOs not of as great a concern?

    1. Disaffected Dan says:

      Because HMOs are licensed, regulated and actually providing homes for people? Still not ideal as opposed to people being able to buy their own places to live, but significantly better than these STL parasites.

    2. Jo says:

      HMO is tightly regulated/registered. Lots of safety requirements, appropriate insurance, registered landlord, registered to pay council tax. I guess some might operate air Bnb…but HMO intended to be for tenants. I would imagine if intention was to do air Bnb, they wouldn’t bother being HMO. Those licenses cost money, and require a lot of compliance.

      1. MBC says:

        Yes but they are still not real homes, sharing kitchens and bathrooms with non family members, lounges used as bedsits. Packed in like sardines. Overcrowding. It’s no way to live permanently.

  2. SleepingDog says:

    I am aware that many Westminster politicians are landlords, but what about Edinburgh councillors, registered or otherwise?
    I gather there was some stooshie in Portsmouth City Council about banning half the councillors from debating a proposal because they had a conflict of interest as private landlords or tenants, but I don’t know the details or the wider picture.

  3. Ken wilson says:

    After 30 years living in Edinburgh I finally departed 3 years ago tired of tourists, noisy and dirty streets. I sold my flat for a very good price. There was a delay before completion of sale. The estate agent told me the Chinese buyer was purchasing 3 other properties. Sure enough there’s my flat on decorated in mock Scots baronial style.

  4. Ming says:

    Injections of super glue are very good for key safes , just saying

    1. Simon says:

      Please don’t.

      A few of these safes allow support workers access to their clients. My neighbour, recently deceased, was one of these vulnerable people.

  5. No.1 says:

    Surely to get tax relief, AirB&B’s need to be taxed in the first place!

  6. Richard Easson says:

    Any and all of those acting illegally should be lokked into tax-wise and retrospectively charged and then warned and if they continue a branch of the Council should be set up to visit each and every property and superglue their lock safes.

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