MPs demand crackdown on illegal lets in London as Airbnb trend sparks ‘free-for-all’

NIcholas Cecil
More people are flouting the rules for letting properties in London on Airbnb: AFP/Getty Images

Property owners are under investigation over whether hundreds of flats and houses in central London are being illegally let out amid the Airbnb revolution, Parliament was being told today.

MPs warned against a “free-for-all” in short-term lettings causing misery for thousands of Londoners who live next door to these properties and hitting the housing stock for people to rent long term.

They are demanding a crackdown on abuses of legislation which allows flats and houses to be rented out short term for up to 90 days a year.

Westminster North Labour MP Karen Buck, backed by nine other MPs including Conservatives Mark Field, Cities of London and Westminster, and Victoria Borwick, Kensington, called for property owners to have to notify councils of the dates that their property is being used for short-letting.

Ms Buck stressed that Westminster council, alone, was currently investigating more than 1,100 properties which are believed to have been in breach of the 90-night limit.

She said: “Whilst I welcome the freedom for home-owners to let their properties... without excessive bureaucratic interference, it is difficult and expensive for cash-strapped councils to police the rules.

“Alongside the responsible owner-occupiers are irresponsible ones, illegal sub-letters and an increasingly significant commercial operation, seeking to take advantage of potentially higher yields.”

Property owners could earn £1,800-a-week on average for a short-term let of a two-bedroom flat, compared to £620 for an assured shorthold tenancy, she added.

The number of London properties being advertised short-term on Airbnb soared by 126 per cent in the year after the 2015-16 Deregulation Act, according to figures from Westminster Council, up from 9,663 to 21,861.

Westminster saw an 80 per cent increase to 2,878, Camden 124 per cent to 1,905, Kensington & Chelsea 79 per cent to 2,130 and Southwark, 139 per cent to 1,249.

Mr Field emphasised: “A free-for-all in short-term lets is causing misery for thousands of our constituents.

“We want the local council to have effective powers to clamp down on this.”

Ms Buck praised Airbnb for seeking to address the problem by stopping people letting out their property for more than 90 days a year through its website.

But she stressed that unscrupulous property owners could get around such restrictions by using different sites or making minor changes to addresses such as calling Flat A in a block Flat 1.

Westminster has sought to have Marylebone and Hyde Park areas exempt from the deregulation shake-up but its application was rejected by the Communities Department. It is considering re-applying.

Other MPs backing the new notification regulation include Tulip Siddiq, Hampstead and Kilburn, Jim Fitzpatrick, Poplar and Limehouse, Andy Slaughter, Hammersmith, Rushanara Ali, Bethnal Green and Bow, Ruth Cadbury, Brentford and Isleworth, and Peter Kyle, Hove.

An Airbnb spokesman said: “Airbnb has introduced new hosting limits in London to help ensure home sharing is good news for everyone.

"Rather than reopening the rule book, we urge policymakers to help ensure other online platforms act responsibly so home sharing grows responsibly and sustainably."

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