Short term lets continue to be a hot topic for lawyers and politicians alike. Following the relaxation under the Deregulation Act 2015, there has been a significant increase in the number of properties listed for short term lets on sites such as Airbnb.
The Evening Standard has reported an increase in the number of properties being listed on Airbnb with an 80% increase in Westminster; a 124% increase in Camden; a 79% increase in Kensington and Chelsea and a 139% increase in Southwark. This interesting visual map demonstrates the growth of Airbnb in London since 2008.
As well as the various legal implications of letting out properties on short term lets, which I have dealt with in a previous posts, politicians have raised concerns about the reduction in the Capital’s housing stock with property owners opting for more lucrative short lets. Constituents have also complained to their local MPs about neighbouring properties becoming “party hotels”, causing misery for residents.
Following extensive media coverage on the topic and growing pressure from the Mayor of London, MPs and Government Ministers, Airbnb reacted by imposing restrictions on “hosts” from letting their properties in London for more than 90 nights a year and consequently breaching s25A of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973, which permits short lets provided it does not exceed 90 aggregate nights in any one calendar year.
However, as I have previously commented, one of the main flaws in the legislation is the ability of local authorities to enforce the restrictions. Despite Airbnb’s efforts to restrict lets to 90 nights a year, homeowners can easily by-pass the restrictions by simply making minor amendments to the property address.
Local authorities enforce the provisions by serving an enforcement notice for breach of planning requiring the cessation of such use. If the use is continued in contravention of the enforcement notice then an offence is committed and the local authority will consider a prosecution. But evidence of use is needed and this can be expensive and difficult to obtain.
Property owners can apply for planning permission for a change of use from Class C3 (dwelling house) to Class C1 (hotel). Two leaseholds of former council properties in Elephant and Castle recently had planning permission applications refused by Southwark Council on the grounds that “the proposal will result in the loss of a housing unit of which there is a significant need for in the borough.”
The challenge for local authorities is obtaining the necessary evidence that property owners are breaching the law. For local authorities with increasingly limited resources, this can be difficult. Last week Labour’s Westminster North MP, Karen Buck, introduced a Private Members’ Bill which would require property owners to notify local authorities of their intention to let their property on short lets. We are currently awaiting the details of the Bill which is due to have its second reading on Friday 12 May 2017. The Bill has cross-party support from other London MPs including Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn) and Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith). You can follow progress of the Bill here.
We await to see the exact details of Bill and whether it will attract enough support to progress through Parliament. What is clear is that the current issues surrounding short lets in the Capital continue to be of interest for landlords, local authorities, MPs and the general public.