Safety failings in unregulated holiday lets risk leading to a fire or other disaster, campaigners and experts warn.
While private landlords must comply with stringent safety checks, properties on Airbnb or similar sites don’t always have to meet the same standards.
Andy Wightman, a land reform campaigner and Green MSP for Lothian, said: “We are going to have a very serious incident in a property that doesn’t have full consent and people might die. Let’s hope not.”
Airbnb displays what safety features a property has in its adverts. Of a sample of 150 flats checked by The Times, more than one in ten did not report a smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector, and a further third only had a smoke alarm.
In one flat, a bed sits on a mezzanine above the kitchen and cooking facilities, but there are no safety features or alarms.
When inspectors examined two flats marketed at stag and hen parties in 2013, each sleeping as many as 20 people, they found safety failings including gas bottles being stored in the living room, and no evidence of gas or electric safety checks. The flats were subject to Scotland’s first management control order because of the level of disruption caused by unruly guests.
Rob Trotter, partner at the letting agency DJ Alexander, said: “If I have a client who I know is not acting responsibly or complying with regulations, I have an obligation to report that landlord and there are powers to strike that landlord off and say you can no longer operate. Nothing like that exists in the short-term market. So there’s nobody being held accountable. Where does a neighbour go to complain? Who is responsible for policing it when people flout the rules?
“Basically we’re waiting for a major disaster to happen, as in a threat to life or worse in a property where there’s a fire, before someone sits up and takes notice, and that’s too late when that happens.”
Safety issues have a knock-on effect on neighbours. Carolyn Barbour bought her first flat in a new-build development near Holyrood Park last year, but within six months was considering selling because of the noise from neighbouring short-term lets. “The fire alarm for our close was set off while the flat was being let out to a group who smoked,” she said. “I’m constantly aware of not knowing who’s passing my flat and entering my close, which makes me feel unsafe in my own home.”
Airbnb said: “We want to be good partners to communities, and ask all hosts to check and follow local rules and take action on issues brought to our attention.
“Safety is also our priority, and we work with safety experts including the National Fire Chiefs Council and Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents to educate our community, and we run a free smoke and carbon monoxide detector programme for all hosts.”
Ross Haggart, director of prevention and protection at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, said that short-term lets were still covered by fire safety legislation and could be subject to investigation. “The service may visit premises to ensure fire precautions are being maintained and that the requirements of the legislation are being met,” he said.
“We would urge property owners to familiarise themselves with their responsibilities and undertake a fire risk assessment to ensure adequate safety measures are provided.”