Is it time for regulation of Airbnb lettings? Legal issues, noise complaints and damage to property could see backlash against rental free-for-all
Suddenly, everything in the Airbnb garden is not looking so rosy. A court has ruled that thousands of flat owners who rent out their homes are likely to be breaking the law.
And then there are the high-profile cases of renters causing thousands of pounds worth of damage to properties — not to mention the claims that Airbnb is contributing to the country’s worsening housing crisis.
On top of that, there are other issues that have become familiar to anyone living near a short-term rental flat, such as the endless banging of wheelie-suitcases on stairs and the uncertainties caused by neighbours changing several times a week.
Party: Owners of a £500,000 apartment in Putney, south-west London, found their property trashed by Airbnb clients holding a New Year’s party in return for a rent of just £138
The vandalism problems came to light in a series of major incidents earlier this year. Owners of a £500,000 apartment in Putney, south-west London, found their property trashed by Airbnb clients holding a New Year’s party in return for a rent of just £138.
Then over the summer, Kensington & Chelsea council issued an enforcement notice — a legal warning — to the occupants of a flat rented through a website offering short lets called booking.com. This followed a series of complaints from neighbours about noisy tenants.
Now Airbnb — which set up in 2008 and has since been used for more than 80 million lettings in 190 countries — says it is taking notice of complaints with an online form for unhappy neighbours.
TOP TIPS FOR TROUBLED NEIGHBOURS
- Use complaint forms on the short-let websites to identify where any problem exists.
- Start a diary of incidents.
- Contact your council’s environmental health department. In extreme cases, it can issue an abatement notice if the owner allows continuous anti-social behaviour by tenants.
- If the problem property is leasehold, the owner may be in breach of clauses regarding good behaviour towards neighbours. If so, complain to the freeholder.
- In serious cases, consider legal action, perhaps with other neighbours — your home insurance policy may have a legal helpline. This will succeed only if other avenues have been pursued.
‘Our team will review your complaint. If we match it with an active Airbnb listing, we’ll send your message to the host [owner] when possible,’ says a spokesman for the site. The names of those making the complaint are kept confidential.
The spokesman defends those who let their homes: ‘More than a third of UK hosts earn below the median household income and almost half rely on the extra income they make by sharing their homes to make ends meet.’
Which explains why the controversies have done little to stem the tidal wave of owners using sites such as Airbnb, booking.com and onefinestay.com.
Last year, the Government deregulated short lets, allowing owners to rent out properties for fewer than 90 days a year without having to seek planning consent. Although the phenomenon is by no means confined to the capital, property consultancy JLL says the deregulation led to a surge in the number of London homes listed on Airbnb.
It says 25,357 were listed on the site at the start of this year, compared with just 171 at the end of 2009. London now has the third highest number of Airbnb listings in the world behind Paris on 35,424 and New York on 30,480.
However, the Residential Landlords Association claims that unscrupulous landlords and long-term tenants are playing the system, flouting the 90-day maximum.
Rooms for rent: Airbnb has been accused of fuelling homes shortage in major cities
It says 61 per cent of homes listed on Airbnb in London in June were available for more than 90 days a year thus turning them into long-term accommodation without having to abide by the regulations, safety and insurance provisions covering mainstream rented homes.
The culprits are landlords wanting to maximise profits, and tenants who are sub-letting without seeking the agreement of their landlords, says the association.
‘Those taking up the lets have no insurance should there be an accident, no protection for any deposit requested and they could face immediate removal once the landlord finds out,’ warns RLA research officer Tom Simcock.
He says landlords who use short-let websites to find tenants may be in breach of their mortgage regulations.
For the wider public there may be a bigger problem —fewer flats and houses available to long-term tenants may lead to higher rents.
Campaigners want our Government to follow the lead of other countries.
In Berlin, anyone letting property to tourists needs a permit and there’s a €100,000 (£86,000) fine for those who flout it. While in some parts of Dublin owners need planning consent if they are to regularly let their properties to visitors.
The noose may be about to tighten on unregulated lettings — and about time too, many long-suffering neighbours will say.
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