Westminster Council calls for tighter restrictions on short-term rentals

UK: Westminster City Council has called for central London to share the same powers as Paris and Amsterdam, in regards to stopping anti-social behaviour generated by disruptive short-term rentals.

The leader of the council wants stricter regulations to hold short-term rental property owners that are breaching letting rules in the capital accountable, which is at the centre of its submission to an upcoming government consultation.

More than 13,000 short-term lets in London are currently listed on platforms such as Airbnb and Booking.com, and as many as one in three West End residents have reported a problem with nuisance properties where many of these listings are located.

It is believed that around 2,000 breaches of short-term letting rules are currently being investigated by Westminster City Council. Various complaints have arisen during the pandemic, with reports of loud parties, intense overcrowding, noise, rubbish dumping, and even as far as sex work alleged to have occurrred within the properties.

The London Assembly currently states that short-term / holiday lets can only be rented out for a period of less than 90 nights in one calendar year [1 January to 31 December] in London, and at least one of the persons providing the accommodation must be liable to pay council tax on the property being rented out. These restrictions apply unless special planning permission is obtained.

According to the council, the Park West apartments near Hyde Park had more rooms available for short-term letting than those in  the entirety of the Ritz Hotel.

In a bid to collaborate with the government on letting restrictions, the council is set to propose actions including registration schemes, fines for property owners that are found guilty of reckless rubbish dumping, and the introduction of exemptions for “high-impact” locations within London where most short-term lets are listed.

Any potential registration scheme would allow for local authorities to dictate exemptions to these areas on the basis of evidence that short-term properties have caused a damaging impact.

Westminster City Council cited Paris and Amsterdam as two cities which have begun to restrict short-term rental operations.

Last February, authorities in Paris won a court challenge at the Court of Cassation to make tax registration obligatory for apartment owners and restrict those renting out their primary residence to a maximum of 120 days a year. This led to a decline of rentals in the city in comparison with a rise in rentals across France as a whole, as detailed in a trend report by AirDNA, while Airbnb was ordered to pay a $9.5 million fine in July after more than 1000 of its listings were found to be flouting registration laws in the French capital.

Meanwhile in Amsterdam, short-term rentals were banned in three city centre districts in the old town in July 2020 – Burgwallen-Nieuwe Zijde, Burgwallen-Oude Zijde and the Grachtengordel-Zuid – and those allowed to continue operating were required to obtain a special permit allowing groups of no more than four people to stay for a maximum of 30 nights per year. A year later, the ban was ruled to be illegal by Amsterdam’s administrative court, before city authorities appealed the ruling.

Cllr Rachael Robathan, leader of Westminster City Council, said: “We absolutely support responsible short-term letting and recognise that it is one of the most flexible and affordable options for people who want to visit central London – especially as Westminster City Council is working hard to bring tourism back to London. But, I strongly believe that this must be done in such a way as to also protect the interests of residents.

“While some properties are let responsibly, a large number are not and these result in there being noise, illegal dumping, antisocial behaviour and, at its worst, criminal activity. Many short-term let properties are causing a strain on council resources and making life hell for many of our residents who constantly complain to us about the detrimental effect they are having.

“Our city inspectors work closely with the police to close unauthorised events held at short-term lets as quickly and as safely as possible. But, ultimately, we need more restrictions and powers given to us as a local authority to tackle short-term letting anti-social behaviour impacting our communities,” she added.

Speaking to The Financial Times, Airbnb said it was continuing to crack down on users who engage in antisocial behaviour through its platform: “Airbnb welcomes regulation: last year we put forward proposals for a host registration system, and we are delighted that the government will be consulting on a similar approach this year.”

The government consultation on short-term lets in London is expected to take place later this year.