A motion being put before Thanet council on Thursday (October 14) proposing planning restrictions on short term lets and a 90 day per year letting limit for entire homes in Thanet on Airbnb, will ‘obliterate’ isle tourism, say those involved in the industry.
Cllr Rob Yates has proposed the action over concerns that whole property rentals on Airbnb are impacting on the supply of long-term lets for residents.
In his motion he says: “We welcome the majority of visitors to Thanet, who make an important contribution to our economy, but we hear residents’ concerns and wish to take action to control this serious issue which is damaging our community and damaging the reputation of Airbnb.”
The motion proposes following a model used in Greater London where entire home properties can only be rented out for up to 90 days a year. A requirement for change of use planning regulations for short term lets is also being suggested.
The Margate councillors says those with entire property rentals are using the isle as an investment opportunity while residents struggle to find accommodation. In response many residents shared stories of their struggles to find homes they can afford as prices in the Thanet market are pushed up and long-term lets appear to be dwindling in supply.
What local Airbnb and holiday let businesses say
Thanet holiday rental businesses say the restrictions would not only ruin people’s businesses but also impact on employment and the wider supply chain – such as pubs, launderettes and restaurants.
Margate couple Ian and Cheryl Seaman opened their Airbnb management company, Let’s Host for You, in May this year.
The couple have launched a petition to show their objection to the proposals.
Ian said: “We started the petition because we wanted to show there is support from the public for holiday rentals in Thanet. So far, the news appears to have provided a very negative view on holiday rentals and Cllr Yates has been given a lot of airtime to announce his objectives and feed the public with a very one-sided opinion.
“The petition has received a lot of support from holiday rental owners, local business, and the general public. They too, do not understand why Cllr Yates would like to obliterate Thanet’s healthy tourist industry, particularly when the people of Thanet have worked tirelessly to build it up over the last decade.
“Restricting the rental availability to just 25% of the year simply isn’t viable and will most definitely ruin people’s businesses and local job losses will be inevitable.
“We launched our holiday rental management service in May 2021 and we have worked so hard since our launch and invested all our own money in to it. We employ 4 housekeeping staff and have 3 office personnel. We work with local businesses who provide a multitude of essential services to the industry, laundrettes, electricians, plumbers, general maintenance contractors, gardeners, photographers, accountants, advertisers.
“We direct all our guests in our welcome guides to dine in local restaurants, drink at local bars, shop in local shops, visit local places of interest, museums, galleries etc. If Cllr Yates proposal goes though, we would lose everything we have worked relentlessly for, we would also become unemployed and unable to pay for our everyday lives and the same goes for the staff we employ. The thought of the business failing at such an early stage is heart breaking to us all.”
Renting in off-peak season
The couple say that holiday rentals are not just used in Summer season and are occupied for some 70% of the year not just by those on holiday but also key workers to staff on projects like the wind-farm, people moving between homes or whilst renovation and insurance work is taking place.
Ian added: “So far this year bookings for the off-peak season have been healthy, proving that Thanet does not operate a 90-day season; this has also been echoed amongst the holiday rental owners we have spoken with. This obviously, won’t just affect our business in this way, it will affect anyone working in this industry and who rely on holiday rentals as their main source of income.
“These businesses have invested their time and money into Thanet to match the tourism demand. Without holiday rentals bringing tourists, restaurants, cafes and bars will only just survive through the off-peak periods. These businesses will see a drastic cut in their takings in the summer and as a result, they might have to make staff redundant or even shut down. A lot of people have put hard work into creating holiday rentals to restore Thanet as an iconic tourist destination and promote small upcoming businesses.
“Cllr Yates believes there will be more long-term rentals available by enforcing a 90-day restriction, this in our opinion is not going to happen. Most of our owners have never considered the long-let market, this is because their second home is their holiday home away from home. They and their extended family and friends use it for personal use all year round.”
A Margate Airbnb owner says the motion is not taking into account the underlying issues that are adversely affecting the housing market and questioned the amount of empty homes being brought back into use.
They said: “In Thanet a lack of affordable housing is compounded by the highest number of empty properties in Kent, and this figure has been rising rapidly. Thanet District Council’s Live Margate 10 year programme (ending in 2026) aims to bring empty properties back into use and yet only 10 properties out of 2474 empty dwellings have been renovated so far. Do TDC have a vested interest in keeping properties empty, given that there is a council tax premium to pay on long term empty properties? It rises from a 100% premium after 2 years, to 200% after 5 years and 300% after 10 years.”
The supply chain
The holiday let owner said data shows guests visiting Margate spend more than five times as much on shopping, food, drink and entertainment as they do on accommodation.
They added: “Any proposal to uphold a 90 day ban would adversely impact the earning power of many women, including those who work for and run the cleaning companies that service this industry.”
One cleaner, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “A 90 day rule would mean I would have to get rid of my staff( who have families too) and go on benefits as I can’t afford to look after my family.”
Another cleaning firm boss added: “If the suggested 90 day rule came in to action, our business would very likely fold. Holiday rental cleaning makes up a majority of our business and we find that a key part of our success has been the flexibility it gives us to operate around our children and home life.
“We have also grown our business and employed others who need the flexibility to fit in with child care. Living in an area such as Thanet, there really isn’t much opportunity for work as flexible as cleaning. If this rule is applied, it may leave us no alternative but to close our business and seek to request financial support from the government which we really do not want to do. We have worked hard to build a good reputation and client base and it would be devastating to lose it all.”
Giving residents control
Cllr Yates says his motion is about giving residents more control over which properties in their area are used in the Airbnb/short term rental industry.
He said: “In Margate we have 14 properties available for rent and over 300 Airbnbs available. Where will our hospital workers and RNLI crew live if this rapid rate of Airbnb expansion continues?
“Even Conservative Anthony Mangall MP is announcing a housing emergency for a similar situation in Totnes. All this motion looks to do is give local people control over which properties on their street turn into Airbnbs, and asks Airbnb for a meeting and a voluntary cap of 90 days on their platform.
“Tourism is essential for Thanet, but so is the livelihood of our long term residents who have committed to the area and pay their share of council tax.”
He adds that he hopes MPs will look at rules around payment of council tax or business rates.
If an Airbnb property is available for let for 140 days or more per year then it is no longer classed as a residential property that is liable for council tax and converts to a business property with non-domestic rates (NDR).
If a landlord or business only has one property they can get Small Business Rates Relief so there is no payment of council tax or non-domestic rates. If more than one is owned, registered under the same name, there would not be rate relief.
Government is also due to legislate to change the criteria determining whether a holiday let is valued for business rates to account for actual days the property was rented, following a previous consultation launched in 2018. Further details on business rates treatment of self-catering accommodation are due to be published by government shortly.
Questions about registration
Independent Broadstairs councillor Ruth Bailey will also put forward a question concerning the shortage of rental properties and the associated proliferation of Airbnbs in Thanet.
She will ask what powers Thanet council has, possibly through the Local Plan, to address the issue, how many Airbnbs there are in Thanet and whether there is a local requirement to register Airbnbs with the council.
She says: “I have become increasingly aware of the plight of people trying desperately to find a place to rent in Thanet. I even know of a lady in her 80s in a desperate situation who has been issued a Section 21 (eviction) notice but cannot find anywhere to rent so is temporarily staying with her brother.
“There currently seems to be a real issue around the lack of available rental property and this unavailability seems to be exacerbated, at least in part, by the proliferation of Airbnbs.
“A shortage of rental properties will also put more pressure on the authority in terms of having to find additional temporary accommodation to house people so this is a serious problem that has ramifications for the council.”
Acorn Margate – a group of Margate residents concerned about the precarious nature of renting in Thanet – is asking the council to support regulation of Airbnb properties.
Spokesperson Georgie Hurst said: “We at ACORN Margate are calling upon Thanet District Council to support the motion to regulate Airbnb in Thanet. The motion is calling for planning restrictions on short term rentals and a 90 day annual limit for entire home holiday rentals in the district.
“We believe these regulations will be hugely important for redressing the imbalance between short-term holiday lets and homes for the working people of Thanet. These regulations are not new for Airbnb, they are already in force in Greater London.
“They make the necessary steps to ensure that housing in the area is governed responsibly and equitably. We need to see real improvement for tenants in Margate, who are constantly getting an unfair deal. From illegal DSS discrimination and rent hikes not aligned with local wages and housing benefit, to insecure short-term housing contracts. Airbnb adds fuel to the fire, depriving Thanet residents of secure and affordable housing and worsening inequality.
“While tourists are important in the summer season, permanent residents are here every month of the year, supporting local businesses and contributing to the vibrancy of our communities. Without regulation, these communities will lose the people that make it a place worth living in.”
The group is planning a demonstration outside the council offices tomorrow (October 14) at 6pm. Find the event page here
Thrive 365 – extending tourism
One holiday let businessperson, who asked not to be named, said most in the trade would happily use a voluntary regulation system but adds that none have been approached about that or any of the issues raised in the proposal going before council.
They added: “The push for tourism has been around the council’s ‘Thrive 365’ to extend the season. Dreamland is trying hard to make itself a year-round destination and when they put on events, or the Winter Gardens, people need accommodation.
“There are 26,800 private or social rented properties in Thanet, Airbnbs are a tiny percentage of properties.
“I feel we are being treated as the enemy but there is a lot of income generated through tourism, it is 20% of Thanet’s employment and extending the season means we get more people here. This proposal would see it all undone.”
The business owner said limits would likely see properties sitting empty after the 90 day cap or being sold off. She suggested a focus on empty properties which increased by more than 300 between 2018 and 2020, which she says: “is more than all of the Airbnbs” in Margate.
Data from Visit Kent shows a growing Airbnb sector with Thanet recording 1,089 active rentals with a rental growth of 373% between 2016 and 2019.
There question has also been raised of how many of the isle’s Airbnbs are properties that would be suitable for long-term let as a number of listed destinations on the letting platform are converted lodges, glamping vans or yurts or caravans.
A 5 year plan to boost tourism in Thanet presented to council last year said tourism is worth £320 million per year to the local economy and supports, directly and indirectly 7,950 jobs.The report said nearly one in five visitors are from London with a key market being in their 20s to early 40s and among suggested actions were: “upgrading existing B&Bs and supporting new serviced accommodation such as midrange hotels, lodge and camping pods and high-quality independent B&Bs.”
The council meeting at TDC’s Cecil Street offices starts at 7pm on Thursday.
The petition can be found at: https://www.change.org/p/local-business-owners-stop-a-councillor?