UK: A tenant who sub-let his own council flat on Airbnb has been evicted from his home and received a record fine of £100,000 for operating it under supposedly illicit purposes.
Tony Harman had listed his home as a ‘cosy studio apartment’ for rent in Victoria in central London for the last six years. The property was viewed more than 300 times online before Westminster City Council prosecuted him for operating it under false pretences, by using the name ‘Lara’ only for online customer reviews to shed light on his real identity.
Harman failed with an appeal in court to stop his prosecution and was subsequently evicted and ordered to pay a total fine of £100,974, which he had amassed in unlawful profits according to The Times.
The clampdown coincides with local authority plans to introduce a nationwide registration scheme to prevent rogue landlords using letting sites and setting up ‘popup’ brothels and illegal raves.
Companies such as Airbnb and Booking.com have come under the regulatory microscope in recent years as the short-term rental market continues to boom in markets across the world.
In January, one Airbnb host’s £2.5 million flat in Kensington was reportedly left “ruined” after a woman rented it out to host a party attended by hundreds of people.
The platform said that it had a ‘zero tolerance policy for this kind of behaviour’ and added that it had suspended the guest who made the booking for an indefinite period.
In the meantime, Westminster City Council has created a housing standards task force to address rogue landlords, with investigations into more than 1,500 suspicious short-term rental cases currently taking place.
The council has floated the idea of forcing householders who want to list their property as a short-term rental online to obtain a code prior to continuing the process. However, despite some proposals, it admitted that it was struggling to gather tangible evidence of landlords failing to comply with the 90-day short-term letting limit in London that was brought in by the government.
Andrew Smith, Westminster City Council’s cabinet member for housing services, told The Telegraph: “It’s illegal for council tenants to sub-let their homes and we carry out tenancy checks, as well as monitoring short-term letting websites for any potential illegal sub-lets.
“Along with a six-figure unlawful profit order, by getting a possession order, we can now reallocate the property to someone in genuine need of a home.
“We’re also pressing government to introduce a national registration scheme to make it far easier for us to take action against anyone who breaks the rules on short-term letting.
“Last year, Westminster successfully recovered 24 social housing properties from fraudsters meaning they can now be allocated to residents in need of a new home,” he added.
In response to the record fine, Airbnb said: “This property was removed from Airbnb earlier this year. We regularly remind hosts to check and follow local rules – including on subsidised housing – and we take action on issues brought to our attention.
“Airbnb is the only platform that works with London to limit how often hosts can share their space and we support proposals from the Mayor of London for a registration system to help local authorities regulate short-term lets and ensure rules are applied equally to hosts on all platforms in the capital,” it added.
In a statement provided to ShortTermRentalz via the blog post entitled, “Effective law enforcement really does help protect the reputation of the short-term letting sector”, STAA (Short-Term Accommodation Association) chair Merilee Karr said the following:
“The STAA always welcomes news reports when an owner or tenant who has been illegally letting their property is caught and appropriate law enforcement action is taking against them. These individuals are responsible for severely undermining trust in the short-term accommodation sector.
“As the industry body, the STAA’s role is to create an environment for the responsible growth of the short-term letting sector in the UK. It’s why we work tirelessly with our members and in partnership with local authorities to educate homeowners about their roles and responsibilities of offering up their properties for short-term letting.
“Since we were formed in 2017, we have developed a growing portfolio of measures with the explicit aim of reassuring consumers and providing guidance and help to homeowners (and professional companies who manage accommodation).
“These measures include our STAA Code of Conduct, to protect guests and hosts, support regulatory enforcement and maintain residential amenities which could be impacted by short-term lets; our Buildings Best Practice Policy which is aimed at guiding building managers and hosts in communal buildings on a balanced and responsible approach to short-term letting and, crucially, joint working partnerships with a number of local authorities to ensure the benefits of the sector can be realised, at the same time as developing policies that address common concerns about such activity as noise, rubbish and security.
“The STAA has agreed a ‘Considerate short-term letting charter’ with Westminster City Council which succinctly sets out best practice standards which all hosts, property owners and management companies should follow to ensure compliance, and we are in discussion with a number of other councils around the UK about rolling out similar best practice partnerships.
“A lot of the bad practices that take place flout the law and there are clear penalties in place. As we have stipulated in the ‘Considerate short-term letting charter’ with Westminster City Council, it is illegal to sub-let a local authority property for any purpose, and that includes short-term accommodation.
“If you suspect someone is doing it, then please contact your local authority or the accommodation platform on which the property is listed so that they can take action.
“Short-term letting is helping millions of people earn legitimate additional income, allowing guests to experience the best of our urban neighbourhoods and supporting local businesses.
“We are pleased to see that the few rogue operators are being dealt with so we can continue to grow this dynamic, innovative and exciting industry responsibly,” added Karr.