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Airbnb and London council plan illegal subletting crackdown

UK: A London council has been given permission to work with Airbnb to crack down on alleged fraudsters who are illegally sub-letting their properties as short-term lets in the capital.

Airbnb will now share payment data on two undisclosed estates in North Kensington where illegal subletting activity is said to be taking place, in order to provide evidence of and tackle social housing fraud, as well as provide more housing options for families in need of the space.

If successful, the authority will be able to use the data to inform any potential legal action or criminal proceedings against the suspected fraudsters.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea [RBKC] required a court order to collaborate with Airbnb as the data-sharing would otherwise have violated GDPR laws in the UK.

Sub-letting part of one’s home is illegal unless a tenant has been granted written permission by their landlord to do so. If a tenant were to sub-let part of their home without the landlord’s permission, they would be in breach of their tenancy agreement.

While the RBKC is believed to be the first council to partner with Airbnb to curb illegal sub-letting in this way, it is expected that the investigations will soon be expanded into other estates in Kensington and Chelsea and across London where illegal sub-letting is expected.

In Kensington and Chelsea, there are around 3,000 people currently on the waiting list for council homes, according to Insider Housing.

The council claims that tenancy fraud costs the borough in question an average of £42,000 a year per home.

“Tenancy fraud is not a victimless crime. It costs the public purse an average of £42,000 a year for each home and this welcome collaboration with Airbnb will help us to clamp down on it in our borough.

“Please, if you have any information about tenancy fraud being committed in Kensington and Chelsea, get in touch,” she added.

Theo Lomas, head of government relations for Northern Europe at Airbnb, said: “Hosting in subsidised or social housing in the UK is illegal and has no place on Airbnb and we want to work with councils to remove social housing. However, the current situation is complex and costly, and requires a court order to avoid breaking GDPR rules.

“This is yet another example of the need for the UK to update its rules and introduce a single registration system, so authorities have the information they need to tackle bad actors and return housing to those in need,” he added.

It follows a previous case in 2019 when a tenant in a property in the Westminster Council area was evicted and ordered to pay more than £100,000 in fines after sub-letting his home on Airbnb over a number of years.

The RBKC has been highlighted in the news before as the council was found to be liable in a civil case looking over the effects of the 2017 Grenfell Tower tragedy on nine people, including four people who died in the fire.

Those wanting to report tenancy fraud can contact the council’s housing investigations team on 020 7605 6401 or by emailing tenancyfraud@rbkc.gov.uk.

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