Homes are being turned into hotels. We need a national registration scheme for short-term lets
Landlords who flout the law on Airbnb-style holiday lets are costing councils and impacting housing supply. We must act now to tighten regulation
What happens when several individually reasonable but cumulatively incompatible objectives collide? How do we determine what takes priority and how do we manage the downsides for those people whose interests are not being served?
This is the dilemma confronting an increasing number of local councils and policymakers who must reconcile short-let housing offered by the accommodation-sharing economy, with preserving housing supply and protecting communities.
Airbnb, along with many other accommodation-sharing platforms, has enjoyed huge success and generated considerable profits over recent years. There is huge demand for the flexibility offered by short-stay accommodation, and nothing could be easier than letting out a room, or your entire home, via your smartphone to generate some extra cash.
So far, so good; demand meets supply and everyone is happy. But few things are ever quite so simple.
The first concern is for the supply of desperately needed homes. Properties which may previously have been rented to someone as a home are now let as holiday accommodation at several times what can be made from a residential rent.
As we know from investigative reporting such as that undertaken by the BBC in 2019, some owners and letting agents are willing to turn a blind eye to the law. It is believed that one in four short-term lets in London are illegal, breaching the 90-day permitted limit.
When the government loosened the rules on short lets in London via the 2015 Deregulation Act, some of us warned of the consequences and were ignored. Now councils are united in expressing their concerns about the impact of housing supply and the near-impossibility of enforcement.
Research by the Guardian last month revealed that there are places where one in 50 properties are being let in this way. My own council, Westminster, estimates that there are 11,000 properties on various short-term let websites, and the Greater London Authority and London councils have undertaken similar work, finding 73,549 entire homes in London listed on different sites in December 2019.
“One in four short-term lets in London are illegal, breaching the 90-day permitted limit”
There are other problems, too. A property regularly used by short-stay visitors generates more rubbish and is more prone to noise and other nuisance, even before we get to the “Airbnb party” phenomenon.
This needn’t even mean poor behaviour by the visitors, just that high turnover and casual use has a different impact. The costs fall on the neighbours, the councils and the taxpayers while the benefits all accrue to the owners and the short-let platforms.
Additionally, many of those letting out homes do so unaware (and sometimes in defiance of) potential breaches of their lease or insurance, which can have implications for everyone else in, for example, an apartment block.
It’s not only London that is facing the challenge, either. The Scottish government has announced its intention to allow licensing of short-let properties. Towns, coastal communities and cities across Britain are increasingly finding themselves affected.
I set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Short Lets last year, to provide a forum for us to discuss how to get the balance right. We want to keep the freedoms and the advantages but prevent the abuses.
Key to this is requiring those letting accommodation to simply register that they are doing so, so we know who is letting, where and when.
The more responsible parts of the industry support such a measure. No one wants to end the freedom for homeowners to generate some extra cash, and we can all see the advantages, but the present regulatory environment is not sustainable and now the Government needs to act.
Karen Buck is Labour MP for Westminster North and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Short Lets