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Highland holiday lets – navigating the new rules

By Rachel Smart

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Elizabeth Tainsh, Associate at Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP (WJM) discusses how to navigate the new rules of short-term lets.

For those of you who own a property in the Highlands used for short-term lets (STLs), recent changes might affect you.

Specifically, new control measures have been introduced in the Highlands for STLs, with additional requirements in the Badenoch and Strathspey area. These changes will impact a significant number of private residential and commercial properties, encompassing Aviemore, Kingussie, Carrbridge, Grantownon-Spey and the surrounding areas.

Many individuals and commercial businesses will have properties that have been used by guests for short term lets and rentals for many years and this new regime will undoubtedly affect a large number of properties.

The Highland Council designated a ‘Control Area’ for the Badenoch and Strathspey area on 4th March 2023. Within this area, property owners for both new and existing STLs will need to obtain planning permission or a certificate in order to operate their business. This means that even well-established, respected businesses now require to re-assess their compliance in order to ensure they can continue to operate legally as a STL.

From 4th March, if a property is considered a ‘dwelling house’ in this area – meaning the owner does not reside there as their main home - planning permission is required to rent it out as a STL. This is because it’s considered to be a significant change of the property’s use. Once lodged with the council, the planning application will then be assessed against the relevant planning policies and considerations, with opportunities for third parties to make representations.

Alternatively, property owners may apply for a Certificate of Lawfulness from the council to determine whether their existing or proposed use as a STL is legal, however this will depend on individual circumstances. If granted, this certificate eliminates the need for further planning permission as long as the property use aligns with its terms. Even outside the Control Area, planning permission may still be necessary for STLs if the change in use is deemed significant.

Each property’s situation will be considered individually, factoring in various aspects such as its history and use as a holiday let, its characteristics, and its impact on the local area. It is important to note these planning requirements are in addition to the new STL licence regime, and a licence is likely to be required, even if planning permission is not.

Since 1 October 2022, all new hosts/operators must have a STL licence granted in order to operate i.e. accept bookings and receive guests. The deadline for existing host/operators (i.e. those who were operating their STL property prior to 1 October 2022) to submit an application for a short-term let licence was 1 October 2023.

Whilst local Highland operators will now be grappling with this process, similar challenges were presented when Edinburgh was designed a STL Control Area, leading to a surge of planning applications and legal issues. This included a successful judicial review in the Court of Session, and many applications are still being considered or appealed even now.

During this stage, WJM worked with clients for their STL, including successfully appealing planning permission refusal from the council, with planning permission granted on appeal and also other review work for STLs to be determined by the council’s Local Review Body.

This is a complex and technical area and one that we were fortunately able to help clients navigate. So, for those facing similar challenges in the Highlands, we can help at early stages including reviewing an application for planning permission and also in the latter post-application stage, including any appeal or review that may be required if an application is refused.

With the guidance and expertise of WJM’s Planning and Environment team, we are committed to supporting clients through every step of this journey, assisting in navigating this complex area.

Planning matters can often take a long time to be addressed and it helps to have advisors who work regularly with the council to put the best possible case forward. Please feel free to get in touch if you benefit from advice on this matter. For more information on WJM go to www.wjm.co.uk.

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