Lockdown parties in short-term lets prompt criticism

UK: Short-term letting sites such as Airbnb and Booking.com have been used to rent out properties for “lockdown parties”, a trade association has warned.

Hosts and locals complain that groups of up to 30 are gathering to engage in disruptive and illegal activity, breaking social distancing rules, according to the UK Bed and Breakfast Association.

David Weston, chairman of the UK Bed and Breakfast Association, told the BBC: “While B&Bs and guest houses have been closed since 23 March, it seems these giant platforms have allowed bookings to be made and enabled the so-called ‘lockdown parties’, which have put guests, hosts, neighbours and communities at risk.

“It is about time these global platforms took some responsibility for the safety of their guests, their accommodation and showed some respect for local communities,” he added.

Based on current restrictions on overnight stays in private accommodations,  Airbnb has only allowed bookings to be made for key workers or required essential stays until those restrictions are eased. Some hosts, however, have alleged that a number of people masquerading as key workers have booked various properties and proceeded to throw parties, causing damage and disruption to local neighbourhoods.

The BBC report suggests that a number of anonymous hosts have taken bookings via the Airbnb platform, but have not disclosed their details to be shared with the company. As such, Airbnb says that it does not have evidence to connect the incidents through its platform.

Hosts and neighbours said that the parties are both disruptive to local communities as well as illegal, creating unease and insecurity for residents nearby.

Merilee Karr, chair of the UK Short-Term Accommodation Association [UK STAA], said: “We have been vigilant and very strict about taking bookings during lockdown and have openly opposed anyone breaching the guidelines. We totally disapprove of anyone that has falsely booked accommodation to hold an activity that falls outside of the government guidelines and take action where this would be discovered.”

Some hosts have taken issue with the new government guidelines, which allow up to two households to meet up in indoor settings, as they claim that they will be left with the burden of verifying the relationships of potential guests.

Holiday Home Association chief executive Martin Sach said: “The guidance as it stands is unenforceable. It’s too complicated and not law.

“So self-catering owners aren’t able to police this. You can’t verify the relationship of your guests,” he added.

Earlier this month, a 26-year-old male was stabbed at a property rented out on Airbnb in Southwark, south London, after a fight reportedly broke out at an unauthorised party.

Last week, a 26-year-old man was stabbed after a fight reportedly broke out at a property in Southwark, south London, believed to have been rented via Airbnb. The victim survived, with detectives saying he had been “incredibly lucky” to survive, but it raised further questions over Airbnb’s liabilities in rooting out “illegal” lockdown parties.

In a statement in response, Airbnb said: “We have zero tolerance for illegal activity and Airbnb is the only platform to limit all UK bookings to essential travel for key workers until restrictions are lifted. We also explicitly ban party houses and our neighbourhood support tool enables anyone to contact us with concerns about a listing in their community, and we take action on issues brought to our attention.”