A ruling last week by Bord Pleanala (the Irish planning authority) will be of interest to many tourists coming to Ireland and particularly to all the younger visitors to Dublin from the U.S. who use Airbnb to find somewhere "authentic" to stay.
The ruling, which said that the owners of an apartment in Dublin's Temple Bar were violating planning law by letting it out consistently on Airbnb, became a major talking point here last week and could have serious consequences. It could turn into a big problem for some apartment owners, mainly in Dublin, who have been making a lot of money by renting their places to tourists on a non-stop basis.
And it could be a big relief to the other people who live in these apartment blocks and are being driven mad by having their buildings turned into vacation central by an endless parade of Airbnb tourists.
The particular case that led to this important ruling last week was a more extreme example of the problem. It concerned one apartment in a small building of five apartments in Temple Bar which was being let out through Airbnb on a continual basis.
As you probably know, the Temple Bar area is famous for its bars and restaurants, so many of the visitors staying in this apartment were probably there to make the most of the night life.
The noise and disturbance this caused the permanent residents in the building was making their life a never-ending endurance test. This included comings and goings at all hours, knocking on wrong doors, luggage left in corridors and regular late night music and partying. All good fun, of course, unless you happen to live there and have to go to work in the morning.
Last week's ruling, which confirmed a decision by the City Council earlier this year, made it clear that the way the apartment was being used had changed it from a private home to a commercial premises and this change required planning permission. It was on that basis that the residents of the building had objected, because no such permission had been applied for or granted.
Their case was strengthened by some facts that had become public when the apartment in question had been put up for sale over a year ago. The sales brochure at the time boasted that the two-bedroom apartment was rented out full time on Airbnb, had a 90 percent occupancy rate and had earned €79,000 in rent in the previous year.
This success was used to justify the asking price for the apartment, which was around €100,000 more than similar apartments in the area. For whatever reason the sale did not happen and the apartment continued to be rented out on Airbnb on a full time basis.
But the residents used this information as evidence that the apartment was being used as a commercial operation and therefore needed planning permission. They objected to the City Council which agreed with them, and last week's ruling by the national planning authority confirmed the decision.
The wider implications of this are as yet unclear. But there has been a phenomenal growth in tourism here and, particularly in Dublin, this has led to a massive growth in the number of homes being offered for short-term rental on Airbnb.
In Dublin there are now over 6,000 homes on the Airbnb site, including individual rooms, entire apartments and houses.
Most of this is seen as acceptable, since it encourages more tourism and tourist revenue and gives many ordinary home owners a chance to make some money. And we're well acquainted with Airbnb here not only because it has its European headquarters in Dublin where it employs hundreds of people, but also because Irish travelers are enthusiastic users of Airbnb to find accommodation in all kinds of places from Bangkok to Brooklyn.
The original idea still holds good, giving travelers a more interesting, independent experience than anonymous and expensive hotels, crowded hostels or claustrophobic traditional B and Bs. For many people, not just young travelers on a tight budget, the ability to shop for your own food, have your own door key and "live like a local" is the real attraction.
For many Airbnb hosts in Dublin, who offer a room or rooms in their apartment or home, with guests and hosts often sharing facilities, meeting new and interesting people can be part of the attraction, in addition to making significant money. And the money is significant, with the average rate for rooms in Dublin at around $70 a night. Indeed, so many people have got into this that the Revenue Commissioners last year ruled that earnings from Airbnb lettings had to be declared for income tax.
The overall negative consequence of the boom in Airbnbs here has been to reduce the number of houses and apartments available for rent to local, long-term tenants, instead of the short-term -- and much more lucrative -- Airbnb guests. An apartment in central Dublin which can be let continuously on Airbnb generates around four times as much as an ordinary rental.
The result of this has been to worsen the housing crisis in Dublin where there is already a severe shortage of rental properties available to people, usually younger people, who cannot afford to buy a home.
Rents for the few properties that are available have soared, pricing many people out of the market and adding to the number of homeless. The situation is also causing chronic overcrowding, with examples of rented three or four-bedroom houses being shared by 20 to 30 people, including immigrants and students from down the country who are up in the city to go to college.
One commentator here pointed out the irony of the situation we now have in Dublin where many apartments are being let on Airbnb for short stays to people who used to go to hotels, while at the same time the state is spending a fortune to put up homeless families in hotels.
The situation has also led to the emergence of local Airbnb entrepreneurs who rent houses or apartments and then advertise them as individual rooms or entire homes on Airbnb. One guy was on radio here this week talking about how he had been in the "business" for the past two years and has 40 rooms on offer on Airbnb, none of which he owns. One of the owners was on claiming she did not know her house was being re-let in this way.
The most publicized downside to the Airbnb effect in Dublin, however, has been the kind of case that featured in the planning authority ruling this week, where the property is being operated as an Airbnb letting full time and is no longer a home for the owner. These can be spotted easily on Airbnb since their calendar of availability is all year and they are usually "entire" homes or apartments.
The noise and disturbance and increased foot traffic by guests and cleaners that these full time lettings cause is a severe imposition on neighbors, whether in an apartment block or on a street of residential homes. It's no wonder that people are objecting.
The minister for housing here, in the wake of the planning ruling, promised last week to look at the whole issue and particularly at introducing new legislation to control the sector.
The difficulty is deciding where to draw the line. One could say that all "entire" homes or apartments offered on Airbnb must apply for permission as commercial premises, giving neighbors a chance to object. The same could be the rule even when an entire home is offered as individual rooms or in any situation when the owner does not live on the premises.
Or one could put a limit on the length of time that any Airbnb can be offered each year -- perhaps two or three months in total.
Property rights make this a difficult area for controlling legislation. But it should be possible to address the problem in a way that gets at the people who are turning it into a disruptive business and still allow ordinary home owners to dabble and earn some extra money now and then without causing annoyance to their neighbors.
That would get back to the original Airbnb "sharing economy" spirit which appeals to hipsters everywhere, although how much of that spirit remains these days is doubtful. It's incredible to think that it's a mere nine years since two 27-year-old friends in San Francisco used the Internet to rent a few airbeds on their floor, realized from the reaction that they were on to something, and set up a website called airbedandbreakfast.com to exploit it. Currently Airbnb is valued at around $30 billion.
That's enough to make a hipster weep. Many of the business behemoths in the "sharing economy" -- whether it's Airbnb, Uber, Deliveroo or the rest of them -- are called disruptors because they disrupt old ways of doing business and offer new, more effective business pathways in the internet and digital age.
But the service they provide comes at a price, sometimes a heavy price, for everyone except those who set up the business. As ever, there's no such thing as a free lunch.
Where Airbnb is concerned, tourist cities around the world have been struggling to deal with what is going on. There are concerns about adding to the tourist explosion in an unregulated way, something that many Dubliners share given the overcrowding in the city center in summer when the place becomes a sort of historical theme park full of hop on/hop off tourist buses. There are concerns about what it is doing to jobs and pay in the established hotel and B and B sector and about standards in general.
And as we have seen, there are concerns about removing much needed rental property from a market already in crisis because of shortages.
The hipster hype about the sharing economy only goes so far. Of course Airbnb here has already said it will welcome discussions with the minister on devising suitable home-sharing rules.
We'll see how that goes. At the end of the day, it's all about the money.