Short-term rentals, especially in the B&B industry, are having a significant impact on the rental market in many European cities.
The phenomenon initially affected historical centres and the most commercially attractive areas of capital and tourist cities, and then spread to secondary locations and less commercially attractive neighbourhoods, especially those with good public transport connections.
The spread of short-term rentals practice has generated as a first consequence a scarcity of available accommodation for those in need of stable housing solutions, generating difficulties for off-campus students and families looking for medium to long-term solutions.
In addition to other considerations on the cities rental market, the rapid turnover of guests in short-rented properties can have safety and security implications for both tenants and other residents.
The first significant effect of the high turnover of guests, is increased anonymity between neighbours. Consequently, there is greater difficulty in building the network of informal neighbourly relations that almost always characterises community life, limiting the spontaneous surveillance of private and shared spaces.
Temporary residents tend to adopt defensive attitudes towards themselves and their belongings rather than taking on the role of monitoring the surrounding environment, which is more typical of long-term residents.
The temporary resident, in most cases, is unable to read the signals, sometimes weak, that the unfamiliar environment transmits, reducing the level of spontaneous control of public and shared spaces, making them more vulnerable to degradation and petty crime.
The increased flow of people within apartment buildings, thanks to short-term rentals facilitated by online booking platforms, can raise the risk of intrusions, thefts, acts of vandalism, damage to common property, harassment, and assaults. This can be attributed to the temporary guests' lesser familiarity with the environment (who are often less present during the day in the rented accommodations) and the potential presence of valuable items within the rented apartments (currency, cameras, computers, and more). The commission of these crimes can alarm other residents, deteriorate relationships, and reduce the overall quality of life within the community.
A second critical element is the breaking, even unintentionally, of shared codes of behaviour by temporary residents. The latter tend to behave as if they were in a hotel, ignoring the rules of the building community and causing discomfort and conflict among neighbours.
Temporary guests are often not aware of the in-depth norms of the apartment building and may behave inappropriately or neglect safety regulations. For example, they may not be aware of the rules on waste separation or may not be willing to respect them; they may not respect silence during the night hours; they may leave the entrance doors of the building open, making it difficult for residents to monitor access; they may misuse common spaces (parking, swimming pools, gyms, etc.). Furthermore, they may not have the same degree of care for properties as long-term residents, thus increasing the risk of damage, inconvenience or accidents.
Last, but not least, short-term rental properties can be used for illegal activities if not properly controlled and regulated. Consequently, many buildings have adopted specific rules to protect the safety and tranquillity of residents while still providing some flexibility to tenants. In other cases, it has been decided to completely ban short-term rentals, a fact that is a source of frequent disputes due to regulatory uncertainties related to the novelty of the phenomenon, mostly not provided for in building regulations.
Nevertheless, despite the potential problems, it is important to emphasise that short rentals can also improve building security. Landlords who rent out their homes can be motivated to ensure the safety of their guests by installing additional security systems and monitoring their behaviour. Many landlords are safety-conscious and respect the rules of the building to offer their guests a quiet and safe stay. Owners can also be motivated to maintain building security to avoid property damage and receive positive online ratings.
Hence the call for appropriate training for landlords, and tenants, aimed at understanding how correct and conscious behaviour can significantly improve the relationship between permanent and temporary guests, in everyone's interest.
Very interesting is the approach of the UK's Neighbourhood Watch with respect to the safety issue related to the practice of short-term rentals.
In July 2021, the UK Neighbourhood Watch and Airbnb signed a partnership, as part of the UK Trust and Safety Alliance, whereby Airbnb pledges to open its doors to communities by helping temporary guests to 'live like a resident', encouraging them to stay responsibly and respectfully in the communities where they are hosted. To this end, the parties have co-published a series of mini guides.
One of these, made available to guests, has the significant title of 'How to be a good neighbour during your trip’. The guide contains brief tips on how to keep the home safe, how to park safely without disturbing residents, and how to follow house rules.
Another mini guide, entitled 'How to be a good neighbour', encourages homeowners of rented houses to create a network with their neighbours, asking them to report any problems that may arise with temporary guests and to check on the house when it is not occupied, applying the rule of good neighbourliness. The guide also suggests sharing the house and neighbourhood rules with guests to ensure their safe stay.
We are aware that agreements like the one between the UK Neighbourhood Watch and Airbnb do not solve the problem of the shortage of medium to long-term rental accommodations, due to the proliferation of short-term rentals (which are generally more lucrative for property owners). However, the agreement appears to be a good example of how community respect and safety can be reconciled with the practice of short-term renting.
We think it is a "good practice" that should certainly be followed by Neighbourhood Watch organizations in other European countries.
Umberto Nicolini - EUNWA Advisory Board
Leonardo Campanale - EUNWA President