Party pads and a ‘hotbed’ exposed by probes into holiday pretending

Airbnb’s short-term “Wild West” style is letting London risk “rotting out”, it was warned on Tuesday, as one borough revealed it was investigating a record 2,400 properties for abuse of rules.

More than 10,500 homes are being used as holiday lettings at Westminster amid claims some blocks of flats are hosting more guests than The Ritz hotel every night.

Suspected brothels, party pads with a “revolving door” of reverends and severe overcrowding in short-term properties were uncovered during council probes.

The town hall said it received dozens of complaints from residents each week about short-term lettings amid claims they were wasting housing stock, as well as disrupting the local hotel trade.

Across the capital, more than 455,000 stays were booked in short-term letting between July and September last year through three major online platforms, according to the Office for National Statistics. Over the same period there were around 86,500 properties available to rent in London on Airbnb alone, Benham & Reeves analysis suggests, a nine per cent increase on the previous quarter.

The Government this year announced new controls designed to ease the housing crisis and help prevent local people in major tourist areas from being terrorized by noise.

The changes mean that landlords will need permission from the council to convert their home into a short-term rental. Housing Secretary Michael Gove said a mandatory national registration scheme would also be introduced.

The rules will not apply to those renting out their main home for less than 90 nights a year, and planning permission will only be required for new short-term lettings, with existing ones automatically reclassified.

Announcing the proposals, Mr Gove said: “We know that short-term letting can be helpful for the tourism economy, but we are now giving councils the tools to bring them under control so that local people can own the homes rent that out too.”

But London has had the 90-day rule in place since 2017 and the announcement sparked fears among councils that unscrupulous landlords, who are already breaking the limit, could automatically reclassify thousands of homes as full-time short-term lets.

Tuesday Standard (Night Standard) front page

Tuesday Standard (Night Standard) front page

Westminster council leader Adam Hug said there was a “Wild West risk of short-term letting” “wiping out our capital by eroding the private rented sector, increasing costs for local authorities and undermining communities across the country”.

Mr Hug wrote to the Government today to warn that exempting existing short-term lets from the need for planning permission would create “an effective amnesty for years of anti-social and rule-breaking behaviour”.

“In our view, given the high number of cases being investigated, a high percentage of the additional 10,500 properties we are aware of being used for short-term letting in Westminster are in breach of the 90 day limit and that they would be lost to use as. full-time short-term letting,” he said.

“During a housing crisis, it would be grossly negligent to leave many times the total number of homes needed per year as identified in the Housing Delivery Test unused.”

Mr Hug also warned that they were trying to “put the cart before the horse” in trying to adjust the planning system before councils had an understanding of the number of properties, and potential planning breaches.

“This would be particularly reckless, at a time when the council is investigating 2,400 properties, a record number, for allegedly being used illegally for short-term letting,” he said.

A mansion block with more short-term lettings than rooms at the Ritz

Residents in the Park West mansion block, a stone’s throw from Hyde Park, complain of being plagued by loud parties and overcrowding.

They say visitors who book apartments through short-term letting companies are “breaking their peace” and that luxury apartments have become a “revolving door” for tourists.

More than 100 of the 530 flats in West Park are suspected to be listed on holiday rental websites and Westminister council says the block is likely to host more overnight guests than the Ritz, which has 111 rooms and 25 suites. .

Stratoula Nasioula, 27, who works in publishing, has lived there for two years. She said: “People are bringing in suitcases every hour, even 2.30am. There are so many people here in and out, and it feels a little scary.

“Many of the people who come for a few days don’t have key words for the main gate so they queue behind me as I go in. It feels too much.”

A resident in his forties, who has lived in the block for more than a decade, said he had complained to Westminster council and property managers.

He told the Standard: “The sense of community has been lost. It’s a revolving door and our peace is broken. Airbnb is taking over, it seems. They seem to get around the rule that says they can only rent for 90 days a year somehow.”

However, a woman from the Gulf, who came to London for a health procedure and is staying in the block, said the short-stay accommodation was suitable.

She said: “I’m happy here, it’s central and convenient and people need somewhere to stay. I don’t see a problem.”

Mark Jenner, company secretary of Highdorn, which previously manages Park West and other buildings, said: “We fight these battles in many of our blocks. We fight it as hard as we can, but it’s a losing battle.”

“The idea that these and many others could be legitimized, without examination, at a time when we have never had so many investigations into non-compliance is unacceptable.”

A spokesperson for Airbnb said the typical London property on its app was only rented out for three nights a month and that it was partnering with local authorities to investigate rule-breakers.

The company is the most well-known of short-term leasing firms, but in reality there are many different websites where properties can be listed and reservations can be made, meaning that landlords can easily circumvent the 90-day rules.

Westminster cabinet member for renters, Matt Noble, said it was “clear” there was “widespread abuse” of the 90-day limit on short-term lettings.

Since August 2023, Westminster council has served 78 planning infringement notices on houses and flats suspected of being in operation for more than 90 nights.

Fines of up to £20,000 can be levied on those who breach the 90 day rule but investigations are expensive and breaches are difficult to prove.

A comprehensive program has been requested by local authorities, by the end of this Parliament, to obtain a firm record of the short-term lets in their areas and whether they are being used as permanent holiday homes.

About 90 per cent of the 118 properties at Forset Court, a block near Hyde Park, were being used for holiday stays, Westminster investigators found.

Residents in the West Park block of flats over there have complained of loud parties and overcrowding “breaking their peace” as celebrities rent out flats almost every night of the week. The two blocks are said to be serving more tourists than the Ritz each week.

An analysis of 2,800 short-term lettings available in the capital over the past three years found that more than a fifth had previously had longer-term tenants.

Commentary: Why this is bad news for generational rent

By Matt Noble, cabinet member for renters at Westminster council

There’s no question that short-term companies like Airbnb have revolutionized travel and let people see the world on a budget.

But this has a downside in London. Since the lockdown ended, the short-term letting boom has returned.

Entire buildings are being covered in virtual hotels; indeed, one block of flats in Westminster was famous for offering more rooms than the Ritz each night.

It is clear that the 90-day limit on short-term lets is being widely abused and the council is investigating 2,400 suspected cases of abuse of the system — the highest figure ever.

We believe that the Government’s proposed legislation risks foreclosing thousands of short-term rental properties from the “normal” rental property market. This is bad news for “generation rent”. My council job title is cabinet member for regeneration and renters – a challenging role as rents rocket across Westminster.

The Government must act to ensure that people born here or who work here have some chance of living here. The Council is providing affordable housing but we cannot conjure the stock out of thin air.

Short-term lettings are a long-term housing crisis. It’s time for our renters to get a fair play.

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