Baroness Gardner: Local authorities must be given the funding and authority to regain control over short lets
Local councils need powers over short lets to re-introduce a registration system, a licencing scheme and inspection rights to ensure home owners and neighbours are treated fairly and equally, writes Baroness Gardner.
The present situation caused by the lack of control of ‘short lets’ is cause for concern.
In 2015 we did away with the local government system of registration of short holiday lets at just the time when New York, Paris and Berlin were just introducing similar controls.
For many years I have shared ownership of two flats in a block in central London. Until 2015 the local council had powers to control some aspects of lettings and there was a registration system required if the flat owner wished to let their property as a ‘holiday let’ or ‘short let’.
Under the requirements at that time, short holiday lets had to be registered and a fee paid to the council. This was usually a rather long time ahead of the date of occupancy. It was appreciated that the travel pattern for many people had changed and discussions that I had at that time with one of the central London councils confirmed that, for a fee to cover costs they would be willing to operate a licencing scheme whereby short notice would be possible and fair to neighbours and the local authority would be able to check that terms and conditions were being met.
Having read the very recent account of the scam reported by Lord Sugar, I also have heard of people arriving ready to move in, while the resident family were having their breakfast and knew nothing about any letting.
Returning responsibility to local authority licensing would enable records to be checked and empower the local council to act in these matters.
At present local councils have neither funding nor authority.
Newham is, I believe, the only London authority which has a clear system for registration of properties for short lets. I believe it works well.
The Mayor of London has made clear the loss of many homes for residents in London has resulted from the loss of local controls. Recent reports from New York make clear that the tourist industry hotels have been badly affected by the number of short lets.
There is a financial benefit for home owners who are able to let their properties but often a great disbenefit for those living close to the midnight parties and overcrowding of these.
Much as I have tried to find people who are able to prove that they have a right to offer a short let, I have found none that have had their leases checked to confirm that they do have this right.
I have raised questions in Parliament on other issues - such as the tourist rubbish being put out on the day they leave London – often on a non-collection day. The official reply is that this is an amount that should be paid by the person putting it out. It has become a nuisance problem in many parts of London as feral dogs and birds have been ripping the bags open.
No holiday company is paying and the rubbish bags have been just left out and reached major nuisance level.
One thing that would be helpful would be if those blocks of flats that have a “right to manage board” which gives no right to a “sinking fund” would be if the management Board could be entitled to set up such a fund to enable urgent and/or essential works to be carried out without delay.
The lack of information on houses in multiple occupation because owners have not registered them and the undeclared rental incomes from these and also from many flats is not just.
Returning registration and inspection rights to the local authorities would help to ensure that owners were treated fairly and equally.
Baroness Gardner is a Conservative Member of the House of Lords.