Short-term lettings through Airbnb and other online platforms are “growing out of control” in London with up to one in 50 of all homes now estimated to be available, town hall bosses have claimed.
The spread of short term lets is encouraging antisocial behaviour and criminality with residents increasingly complaining about them being used as party houses and for prostitution and drug dealing, councils in the capital said. They believe it is pushing up rents and reducing the availability of homes for the rising number of households who are temporarily homeless, which in England hit 56,280 last year – the highest level since 2010.
Westminster city council said recent problems include a property in Knightsbridge being used as a brothel, a mansion block near Hyde Park where more than a 100 of the 530 flats are thought to be in use as short-term rentals and a mews house in Marylebone rented on Airbnb for five people where police had to shut down a party for 50.
“At a time when almost one in 50 Londoners is homeless, it’s ridiculous that potentially one in 50 London homes is rented out as a short-term let,” said Darren Rodwell, the leader of Newham council and the London Council’s lead on housing. “The market is growing out of control. Boroughs are hearing more and more complaints about short term lets linked to anti-social behaviour and even criminality.”
At a time when almost one in 50 Londoners is homeless, it’s ridiculous that one in 50 London homes is a short-term letDarren Rodwell, Newham council
Airbnb disputes the figures, which it said are flawed and based on “inflated data” caused by counting the same properties multiple times. It also said the snapshot was taken in December, a peak period for bookings.
A spokesperson said: “We are good partners to London and nearly half of local entire home listings on Airbnb are rented less than just 30 nights a year”.
However the London Borough of Camden, short-term let hotspots, said more than 7,000 properties were used as a short term let last year with 48 exceeding the 90-night limit.
London Councils, a cross-party organisation, is now demanding stronger regulation and it wants government action to provide mandatory registration of short-term lets and powers to punish irresponsible property owners.
Earlier this month the Scottish government announced new powers for councils north of the border to license short term landlords with powers to insist planning permission is sought before a whole property is switched to short-term lets. Campaigners in the historic centre of Edinburgh have complained the area has been overrun by properties turned over to short-term lettings.
Is rough sleeping getting worse?
The government claims rough sleeping in England fell for the first time in eight years in 2018, from 4,751 in 2017 to 4,677. But the body that oversees the quality of official statistics in the UK has said the number should not be trusted after 10% of councils changed their counting methods. Rough sleeping in London has hit a record high, with an 18% rise in 2018-19.
The numbers of people sleeping rough across Scotland have also risen, with 2,682 people reported as having slept rough on at least one occasion.
Shelter, whose figures include rough sleepers and people in temporary accommodation, estimate that overall around 320,000 people are homeless in Britain.
What’s being done about rough sleeping?
The government’s Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which places new duties on state institutions to intervene earlier to prevent homelessness has been in force for more than a year, but two thirds of councils have warned they cannot afford to comply with it. In 2018, James Brokenshire, the housing secretary, announced a one-off £30m funding pot for immediate support for councils to tackle rough sleeping.
How does the law treat rough sleepers?
Rough sleeping and begging are illegal in ENgland and Wales under the Vagrancy Act 1824, which makes ‘wandering abroad and lodging in any barn or outhouse, or in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or wagon, and not giving a good account of himself or herself’ liable to a £1,000 fine. Leading homelessness charities, police and politicians have called on the government to scrap the law.
Since 2014, councils have increasingly used public space protection orders to issue £100 fines. The number of homeless camps forcibly removed by councils across the UK has more than trebled in five years, figures show, prompting campaigners to warn that the rough sleeping crisis is out of control and has become an entrenched part of life in the country.
Is austerity a factor in homelessness?
A Labour party analysis has claimed that local government funding cuts are disproportionately hitting areas that have the highest numbers of deaths among homeless people. Nine of the 10 councils with the highest numbers of homeless deaths in England and Wales between 2013 and 2017 have had cuts of more than three times the national average of £254 for every household.
What are the health impacts of rough sleeping?
A study of more than 900 homeless patients at a specialist healthcare centre in the West Midlands found that they were 60 times more likely to visit A&E in a year than the general population in England.
Homeless people were more likely to have a range of medical conditions than the general population. While only 0.9% of the general population are on the register for severe mental health problems, the proportion was more than seven times higher for homeless people, at 6.5%.
Just over 13% of homeless men have a substance dependence, compared with 4.3% of men in the general population. For women the figures were 16.5% and 1.9% respectively. In addition, more than a fifth of homeless people have an alcohol dependence, compared with 1.4% of the general population. Hepatitis C was also more prevalent among homeless people.
Sarah Marsh, Rajeev Syal and Patrick Greenfield
London Councils analysed the listings on six short-term lettings websites, Airbnb, Booking.com, Homeaway, Housetrip, Niumba and Trip Advisor, to produce the first snapshot of the proportion of the total housing stock now available on a nightly basis. They found over 108,000 listings and of these more than 73,000 were listed as entire homes rather than single rooms, like a traditional bed and breakfast.
Planning permission is required to rent out homes on short lets for more than 90 nights in a year, but councils say this is almost impossible to police and there have been very few prosecutions.
Karen Buck, MP for Westminster North, is campaigning for a public register of hosts which she argues will “nudge” landlords into a greater sense of responsibility. Airbnb has also backed the plan.
“We have seen parties where firearms have been discharged, but the dominant issue is the toll on residential properties and the fact that neighbourhoods become extensions of the hospitality industry without the husbandry you get in a hotel,” she said. “The benefits fall on the owner but all the costs fall on the neighbours or the council.”