Illegal holiday let Airbnb crackdown
New unit to tackle council home subletting and home-owners breaching 90-day rent rules
15 December, 2017 — By William McLennan
Karen Buck called for ‘stronger powers’ in Parliament this week
A TEAM of investigators have begun a crackdown on rogue landlords who are breaking rules on short-term lets and causing chaos for neighbours.
Westminster Council has employed the unit of four in a bid to gather enough evidence to prosecute anyone who breaks the government’s 90-night limit on short-term letting, following a rise in homes advertised on sites like Airbnb.
The increasing popularity of online rentals has led to a rise in people letting their homes for a few nights at a time. But the council say that unscrupulous land- lords have effectively turned homes into holiday apartments, worsening the housing crisis and causing anti-social behaviour for neighbours.
The team started work this week, as Westminster North MP Karen Buck told parliament on Tuesday of the need for legislation to give councils “stronger powers to stop the loss of much-needed homes”.
The council called on residents to report anyone they believe may be unlawfully sub-letting to holidaymakers and warned home owners’ mortgages may be invalidated if they break the rules. They said 1,500 properties are already under investigation. Lettings on Airbnb increased by 126 per cent, from 1,603 in 2015 up to 3,621 in 2017, according to figures published by the council. Neighbours complain of a spike in peak holiday times in summer and around Christmas.
In June Airbnb were forced to ban one of the “guests” who had used a flat in Maida Vale for a late-night rave, with police attending at 3.30am.
The company, based in San Francisco, said it was working with the Mayor of London and felt unfairly singled out, saying politicians are “turning a blind-eye” to rival companies.
Anyone who wants to rent their home for more than 90 nights must first win planning permission and council leader Nickie Aiken said: “Companies must take responsibility for some of the unintended consequences of their business model, which is causing misery in pockets of our city and other cities across the world.” She added: “Some selfish people treat this as an entirely commercial enterprise, letting their property out for one or two nights at a time all year round, with little or no thought to the wider community.”
Presenting a new bill to parliament that would force homeowners to tell councils that they want to let their homes, Ms Buck said: “There are apartment blocks in my constituency and others that are fast becoming informal hotels, but without any of the management and support functions provided by hotels and, of course, without paying business rates or corporate taxes.”
Cllr Aiken said she wanted the government to “introduce a new tax on nightly letting as local taxpayers unfairly bear the burden of our related council services and activities”. Referring to Airbnb, she said: “I think it is unacceptable that a company that reportedly pays only £200,000 a year in tax [in the UK] can cost a single local authority more than that in enforcement alone.” The council is estimated to spend £250,000 a year on planning enforcement. Airbnb said they introduced a 90-day hosting limit on their website in January, in an attempt to make sure hosts kept within government guide- lines. The number of homes being let for more than 90 days decreased by two-thirds as a result, they said.
A spokeswoman said: “Airbnb is the only plat- form that works with London to promote the rules and limit how often hosts can share their homes. Politicians should stop turning a blind-eye to the activities of companies like Booking.com and Trip- Advisor, which need to step-up and follow our lead to help make London stronger for everyone.”
Booking.com declined to comment. TripAdvisor did not respond to a request to comment.