Record noise complaints over weekend 'party flats' in London

Party central: short lets in Soho make residents' lives a misery, says council  (Unsplash / Miquel Parera)
Party central: short lets in Soho make residents' lives a misery, says council (Unsplash / Miquel Parera)

A record number of complaints are being made about homes in central London being rented out as weekend “party flats”.

Westminster council is receiving an “unprecedented” 30 complaints a week from residents living in Soho, Covent Garden, Hyde Park, Marylebone, and Lancaster Gate.

The properties are advertised on websites such as Airbnb, Under the doormat and Vrbo, and are available on short-term lets. But the council says some apartment blocks have been “hollowed out” to become virtual hotels.

There are an estimated 12,000 short-term lets in Westminster, returning to pre-pandemic levels and making it the most saturated area in the country for rentals.

Residents have told the council that weekend parties make their lives a misery.

One person living in Brewer Street, Soho, contacted the council in desperation after 200 people arrived at a flat in the building, leading to a torrent of “loud music, shouting and screaming”.

The resident told the council: “They started a loud party soon after 11pm with loud music above us. It is not the first time - they make any sleep impossible.”

Another resident in Marylebone said: “Every time I leave the apartment or come back home, there are random people sitting on the doorsteps and in corridors. Our flat raised it as a concern to our landlord, but we didn’t get any explanation on why this is happening.”

In Edgware Road, the high turnover of guests and over-occupied flats in high-rise blocks means that bed bases, mattresses and furniture are fly-tipped onto pavements daily.

Since the start of the year, the council has served 86 planning contravention notices on houses and flats suspected of offered short-term lets for more than the permitted 90 nights in a year. The council’s housing team has 500 active investigations.

Westminster says the explosion in short-term lets has led to an “uneven playing field” for West End hotels, which have to pay business rates, corporation tax and take legal responsibility for the behaviour of guests in a way short-let landlords currently don’t have to.

Last year Airbnb said it would work with Kensington and Chelsea council to prevent council tenants illegally sub-letting their homes.

Adam Hug, leader of Westminster council, called for a licensing scheme similar to that being introduced in Edinburgh. He warned the rise in short-term lets would result in a “catastrophic” loss of long-term homes.

“We need more powers to identify which properties are breaking the rules,” he said.

“We need a compulsory registration scheme – of the sort in operation in other major cities around the world – so we know where all the short-term rental properties are and can, at a minimum, enforce the 90-day limit fully. Without this, council officers would have the task of physically monitoring thousands of properties.

“Recognising that these are business operations, being used for commercial gain, we also want to see a requirement for hosts to use paid-for commercial waste services – allowing us to penalise hosts for fly tipping and ensure domestic waste services for residents are not being exploited.

“There is a distinct difference between someone occasionally renting out their property while on holiday and someone taking up valuable housing stock as a cash cow for short-term letting.”