Accidental landlord:there's no need for more regulation for Airbnb-style landlords

Hoteliers want a crackdown on ‘unregulated’ short-term rentals but the accidental landlord says there’s no need for yet more legislation.

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Strewth, new London Mayor Sadiq Khan hadn’t even had time to find the canteen in the bowels of City Hall and get himself of cup of coffee before there was the first public cry for him to clamp down on landlords.

It came from the British Hospitality Association, or BHA, which is hacked off with the number of London landlords who make a few bob letting their properties to holidaymakers via short-term accommodation websites such as Airbnb.

The association, which represents hotels as well as pubs, restaurants and attractions, claims that 40 per cent of the properties in London on Airbnb are from owners of more than one property; therefore it has assumed these are all professional landlords trying to make more money by offering short-term holiday accommodation year-round, rather than long-term lets.

It wants the Mayor to turn his urgent attention to these “unregulated pseudo hotels”, which it says are flouting fire and safety laws.

It also claims that by encouraging landlords to turn homes into holiday lets, sites like Airbnb are compounding the housing crisis in the capital and forcing rents even higher.

And, it argues, these online holiday rental sites allow landlords to dodge tax, although as these accommodation websites usually process the payment, leaving a digital trail, I’m not sure this is a legitimate argument.

I have a feeling the BHA may be less concerned about tax dodging, holidaymakers’ safety and rising rents than it is about landlords pinching business from hotels and B&B owners by offering types of accommodation that are possibly more affordable, flexible or appealing.

The association is right to be worried though, because anecdotal evidence suggests more landlords have been thinking of turning their rental properties into holiday lets since the Chancellor announced that next April he will withdraw mortgage interest tax relief for residential landlords but not for holiday homes. Suddenly, holiday lets could be a better financial proposition than long-term lets.

But what is the legal situation for landlords who want to switch a residential property to a holiday home? Well, the BHA is right that London landlords who let properties on a short-term basis might well be doing so illegally.

Under a 40-year-old Greater London law, which was recently reformed as part of the Deregulation Act, landlords need planning permission if they want to offer short lets for more than 90 days a year. A short let is defined as a period of less than three months.

Many councils don’t enforce this law, but several do, so if your property is in a borough where the council is anti-short lets, you’d better apply for planning permission otherwise you could be fined £20,000.

Also, the hospitality association is right to raise the question of whether residential property owners who offer short lets are complying with fire and safety laws. In reality, however, accommodation offered by private landlords is likely to be safer than a private home let for a week or two a year.

Landlords already have to comply with a long list of health and safety laws, including having at least one working smoke alarm, and carbon monoxide detectors in rooms with solid fuel-burning appliances. There is also a requirement for them regularly to check electrical installations and appliances.

Home owners who rent out their properties when they go on holiday or let a spare room from time to time might not be aware of any health and safety issues.

So, to those asking the Mayor to take action against landlords offering holiday lets, I’d say there is already enough legislation out there and it’s up to councils to enforce it.

  • Victoria Whitlock lets four properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock


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