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Here’s what it’s like trying to rent somewhere to live in the Western Isles

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THERE are just two properties up for rent in Uist. “That’s probably more than there is normally,” one agent tells me.

On Harris and Lewis, there are even fewer. Property sites such as Rightmove and Zoopla show nothing at all. The National was able to find just one property up for rent across five local agents – and that was already as good as gone.

The market’s “absolutely red hot just now,” Donald Morrison, from Morrison Property Management, says. “There are 10 tenants for every place put up.”

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Morrison, like one other agent The National spoke to, is expecting two more properties to come on the market in the next two months. Slim pickings.

Outside these four future properties, you would need a “crystal ball” to know when new rental properties will become available, one agent told The National. “Places to rent up here are very hard to find. They come on as quick as they go.”

“There is a real lack of rentals, but there is quite a demand.”

“They are few and far between.”

“There’s just not enough.”

Everywhere we spoke to the story was much the same. Long-term at least, hunting for a rental property in the Outer Hebrides is an arduous task.

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But popular short-term let website Airbnb brings up dozens of places to stay, from Ness in the north to Barra in the south.

“It’s far more profitable to rent a house out for seven or eight months of the year by the week than it is to rent it out twelve months of the year by month,” Alasdair Allan, the islands’ MSP, says.

But while Airbnb is a “factor”, it is not the only issue impacting on housing supply in the Outer Hebrides.

“I don’t think if the Airbnbs disappeared that it would fix the problem,” Morrison says. “We did have a fair few more tenants than houses five or 10 years ago when Airbnbs weren’t so popular.”

Allan agrees. The SNP MSP says: “There’s nothing wrong with Airbnb, we want people to come on holiday to the islands, but we want to make sure that there is somewhere else that people can actually live.”

He says that businesses on the Western Isles are finding housing to be a particularly acute issue. “If they advertise a job, there’s not going to be a house for that person to live in.”

Allan (below) goes on: “My personal view is that we’re getting to the point where there has to be – in some areas – a decision made about whether there are enough second homes or enough homes that are Airbnb-ed. Edinburgh has kind of gone down that line, so that’s my view.”

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Edinburgh, like other Scottish councils such as Perth and Kinross and Dumfries and Galloway, is looking to take advantage of new legislation which will allow them to bring in controls on short-term lets.

But that is only part of a multi-faceted problem.

“There are different issues at play here,” Allan says. “One is the lack of housing because there’s so much holiday let, but the other problem, quite separate to that, is that in some areas of the islands there are a large, large number of houses that are second homes. That’s a different issue.

“There’s also the pressure that a lot of rural Scotland feels, where people who grew up here can’t really compete with people who’ve retired having sold property in the cities, at least in terms of buying a house.”

He says another issue causing controversy locally is the centralisation of properties in Stornoway, the largest town on the archipelago.

It is “dramatically more costly” to build outwith that population centre, but any housing provision on Lewis will be of little comfort to people looking to live on Barra, some 150 miles away.

Solutions are not immediately forthcoming, but work is being done. Allan says the Scottish Government is providing a new tranche of funding for social housing (“£45 million going in”) that could help alleviate the pressures on the market.

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Morrison says he’s seeing a move away from Airbnbs towards long-term rentals among landlords, and expects more and more people will realise that the idea of running a short-term let is “not all it’s cracked up to be” over the next decade.

But any efforts to tackle the problem will take time, something people hunting for a home don’t always have.

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