Maida Vale Labour Councillor Geoff Barraclough calls for Westminster Council to join Labour in calling for more powers for local authorities to regulate their own cities, and to support forthcoming parliamentary bills, proposed by Karen Buck and others, to deal with the menace that is turning so many of our homes into hotels.
“There’s a new apartment block on Elgin Avenue. It’s on the site of old Elephant and Castle pub. There are fifteen flats in total, a mixture of one, two and three beds, near public transport, and close to local schools and the Harrow Road shops. These flats would be ideal for local families in fact.
So, is this block housing local families?
Well, not it isn’t.
The entire block was made available to tourists for short-term lets by a business styling itself Elgin Avenue Apartments.
Instead of happy Londoners boasting about their new flats we have Rosetta from the United States leaving a five star review saying “The apartment was centrally located and great for tourism.”
” Amazing new apartment,” says Kimberley from the United Arab Emirates. “I’ll definitely be back again.”
Westminster planners approved a small block of flats. What we’ve got is an unlicensed hotel.
If the developers had asked for permission to build a hotel, they would have been refused. Instead they’ve used the deregulated short-term letting rules to drive a coach and horses through the Westminster City Plan.
The human cost of short-lets to our communities are real and they are harmful. My colleague, Cllr Carman will give a number of examples in her speech seconding the motion.
But let’s remember, short-term lets also mean:
- Fewer homes for local people – pushing up rents for everyone
- Unfair competition for hotels that play by the rules
- And risk for tourists who are staying in premises with no licenses, inspections, fire safety or any of the other regulatory paraphernalia that keeps guests in our hotels safe and sound
Now. Some people say we should be encouraging short-term lets as part of the sharing economy.
After all, that’s how Airbnb began with people letting out spare rooms as a sort of modern cultural exchange programme. And we’re all in favour of that. Nothing we propose today should stop people hosting visitors in their spare bedroom and making a few quid on the side.
But short-term letting in London, and across the world, is no longer a caring, sharing cultural enrichment exercise. This is a global industry with landlords not renting out rooms but whole flats, and not renting their home when they’re away, but typically renting our multiple properties in their entirety.
We’ve all seen the advertisements on the tube offering fully managed services to landlords to list their properties on Airbnb and other platforms. These services will greet guests, clean the flats and even offer a car to the airport. This isn’t the sharing economy. This is mass tourism and big business.
In Westminster alone, 5594 entire homes were listed on Airbnb in July. And Airbnb is only one of many platforms. That Elgin Avenue block I mentioned earlier is also listed on Booking.com, Expedia, UK Hotels.com, London Hotels GB, eBookers, Lastminute.com and Orbitz.
5594 homes is 4.4% of the total housing stock in Westminster.
And the majority of these, over 3000 homes, are let by landlords with multiple properties who are running a thinly disguised hotel business and should be regulated as such.
The menace of short-term lets isn’t evenly spread across the borough. It’s worse in Bayswater, Lancaster Gate and across parts of the West End.
The Covent Garden Community Association estimated last year that 20% of that area’s private residential property has been lost to the short-term market. On Shaftesbury Avenue alone 10 of the 54 residential flats were tourist short-lets when they should be homes for Londoners.
The problems caused by short-term letting are no surprise to anyone. That’s why London’s market was, for years, regulated differently to the rest of the country with planning permission required for short-term letting.
So, it’s no surprise that the 2015 de-regulation of short-lets by Eric Pickles, like so many red tape busting attempts by political zealots has failed.
- Westminster Tories know this. They opposed the deregulation in the first place and we are pleased to accept their amendment which underlines just how much tax payer funded work is going into managing a mess which should never have been here in the first place.
- The amenity societies know that. They have been complaining bitterly to anyone willing to listen ever since.
- Our residents know this. And, where leaseholders own their own blocks, like in Maida Vale, they are aggressively using the lease provisions to stamp out short-lets.
- Other European capitals know this and are tightening, not relaxing the rules. In Barcelona, new rules have released 2,500 apartments back to long-term rental for local people. And in Berlin short-term lets have been severely constrained after the city’s administrative court found that the availability of affordable housing was severely threatened.
Short-lets are a global problem but each City is different.
We’re calling today for the Westminster leadership to join us in calling for more powers for local authorities to regulate their own cities. And to support forthcoming parliamentary bills, proposed by Karen Buck and others, to deal with the menace that is turning so many of our homes into hotels.”