Quite simply, there’s a renting crisis. Right now, Londoners are spending half of their income on rent, and research from housing charities shows that almost half of renters in England are experiencing stress and anxiety.
And what’s really rubbing salt into the wound is the news from City Hall that 1 in 50 available homes in the capital are now short-term lets rented out by the likes of Airbnb, Booking.com and TripAdvisor, forcing rents up and driving renters out of their neighbourhoods. These sites make it so easy to list properties for short term holiday lets that many landlords are letting out their properties like this year-round. These sham holiday lets are depriving Londoners of homes and worsening the housing crisis.
The news comes at a time when 1 in 50 Londoners are homeless and the temporary accommodation crisis is spiralling out of control. Right now, 59,000 households in London live in temporary accommodation, including 89,000 children. Temporary accommodation is often anything but, with many families staying in unsuitable and unsafe temporary accommodation for years.
Airbnb has snapped back, calling the figure inflated and blaming double-counting of properties across multiple platforms for the high number. And that reveals yet another facet of the short-term let crisis in London. Back in 2015, the Deregulation Act gave landlords the freedom to rent out their properties for up to 90 days a year – any longer and they would need to secure planning permission to convert the homes into hotels – or face a fine of up to £20,000. While you’d think the steep fine would be a persuasive deterrent, it has been rendered completely toothless as local authorities have no way of proving an offence has been committed.
In fact, the only way that local councils can catch out rogue short-term let landlords is by manually counting the days a property is rented out on, say, Airbnb, and then cross-referencing this with the countless number of other platforms they may also be renting it out on. This is something that cash-strapped councils have no hope of doing. Councillors in the capital have talked about the rise of key-lock boxes on blocks of flats, a telltale sign of the holiday let trade, meaning entire buildings of constituents have been lost to make way for short-term lets.
Short-term let companies are aware of councils’ limitations. Secret filming by the BBC in 2019 found Hostmaker encouraging landlords to keep properties on their site and to “feign ignorance” of the law if caught. And last week, The Times published an article in which ARLA, a letting agent body, claimed that landlords could “earn an average of £500 extra a month by renting their properties on Airbnb rather than to long-term tenants”. The article ignored the 90-day limit altogether.
Things urgently need to change. With the mayoral election creeping closer, Londoners and local councils alike will be looking for candidates with solutions to the ever-growing short-term lets industry. The frontrunners have set out their priorities; Sadiq Khan has pledged to campaign for rent controls, Sian Berry has vowed to make tackling the housing crisis front and centre of her campaign, and Shaun Bailey has said he will build more homes. These measures are all welcome. But to improve Londoners’ lives we need a crackdown on rogue landlords letting out sham holiday lets and depriving people of homes. Councils need to be given the right tools to root these landlords out and improve standards.
This week, Generation Rent is launching a campaign calling for forced data sharing between short-term let companies and councils to aid the crackdown on landlords breaking the rules. You can sign the petition here.