Party tents and ‘brothels’ discovered through research into holiday accommodation

A ‘Wild West’ of Airbnb-style short-term rentals risks ‘hollowing out’ London, it was warned on Tuesday, as a borough revealed it was investigating a record 2,400 properties for breaking its rules.

Westminster has more than 10,500 homes used as vacation rentals, while some apartment complexes receive more guests each night than the Ritz hotel.

Suspected brothels, marquees with a ‘revolving door’ of revelers and severe overcrowding have all been discovered in short-term properties during council investigations.

City Hall said it was receiving dozens of complaints from residents every week about short-term rentals, saying they were devouring housing stock and affecting the local hotel trade.

More than 455,000 short-term stays were booked in the capital via three major online platforms between July and September last year, according to the Office for National Statistics. In the same period, there were around 86,500 properties available for rent via Airbnb in London alone, according to analysis by Benham & Reeves, an increase of nine percent on the previous quarter.

This year the government announced new controls aimed at easing the housing crisis and helping to prevent locals in tourist hotspots from being terrorized by noise pollution.

Due to the changes, landlords need permission from the municipality to rent out their home for the short term. Housing Secretary Michael Gove said a mandatory national registration system would also be introduced.

The rules do not apply to those who rent out their main home for fewer than 90 nights a year, and only new short-term lets will require planning permission, with existing properties automatically reclassified.

Announcing the proposals, Mr Gove said: “We know that short-term rentals can be useful for the tourism economy, but we are now giving councils the tools to take control of them so that local people can also rent these homes.”

But London has had the 90-day rule in place since 2017 and the announcement sparked fears among councils that unscrupulous landlords, who already exceed the limit, could automatically reclassify thousands of homes as full-time short-term rentals.

Tuesday Standard front page (Evening Standard)

Tuesday Standard front page (Evening Standard)

Westminster council leader Adam Hug said “a Wild West of short-term rentals” risks “eroding our capital by hollowing out the private rental sector, raising costs for local authorities and hurting communities across the country.” undermine the country.”

Mr Hug has today written to the Government to warn that automatically exempting existing short-term rentals from the need for planning permission will “create an effective amnesty for years of rule-breaking, anti-social behaviour”.

“We believe that, given the large number of cases being investigated, a large proportion of the more than 10,500 properties we know are being used for short-term rentals in Westminster exceed the 90-day limit and would be lost for use as full-time, short-term rentals,” he said.

“During a housing crisis, decommissioning at least three times the total number of homes required annually, as identified in the Housing Delivery Test, would be more than negligent.”

Mr Hug also warned that attempts to change the planning system before councils had an idea of ​​the number of properties and potential planning breaches they were trying to tackle were “putting the cart before the horse”.

“This would be particularly reckless, at a time when the council is investigating a record 2,400 properties… for allegedly being unlawfully used for short-term rentals,” he said.

Townhouse with more short-term rentals than Ritz has rooms

Residents of the Park West mansion, a stone’s throw from Hyde Park, complain they are plagued by loud parties and overcrowding.

They say visitors who book apartments through short-term rental companies are “breaking their peace” and that the luxury apartments have become a “revolving door” for tourists.

More than 100 of Park West’s 530 apartments are believed to be listed on holiday rental websites and Westminister council says the block is likely to receive more guests per night than the Ritz, which has 111 rooms and 25 suites.

Stratoula Nasioula, 27, who works in publishing, has lived there for two years. She said: “There are always people wheeling in suitcases, even at 1.30am. There are so many people in and out of here, and it feels a little sketchy.

“A lot of people who come for a few days don’t have key fobs for the main entrance, so they queue up behind me when I go in. It feels too much.”

A resident in his 40s, who has lived on the block for more than a decade, said he had complained to Westminster Council and property managers.

He told the Standard: “The sense of community has been lost. It’s a revolving door and our peace has been shattered. It looks like Airbnb is taking over. They seem to be getting around the rule that says they can only rent for 90 days a year somehow.”

However, a woman from the Gulf region, who came to London for a medical procedure and is staying in the block, said the accommodation was ideal for a short stay.

She said: “I’m happy here, it’s central and convenient and people need a place to stay. I don’t see a problem.”

Mark Jenner, company secretary of Highdorn, which manages Park West and other buildings, previously said: “We are fighting this battle on many of our blocks. We are fighting as hard as we can, but it is a losing battle.”

“The idea that these and many more can be legitimized, without any checks, at a time when we have never had so many investigations into non-compliance is completely unacceptable.”

An Airbnb spokesperson said the typical London property on the app was only rented for three nights a month and that it was working with local authorities to investigate rule breakers.

The company is the most well-known short-term rental company, but in reality there are a plethora of different websites where properties can be listed and bookings made, meaning landlords can easily get around the 90-day rule.

Westminster’s cabinet member for tenants Matt Noble said it was “clear” the 90-day limit on short-term lets was “being widely abused”.

Since August 2023, Westminster Council has issued 78 building infringement notices for houses and flats believed to have been occupied for more than 90 nights.

Fines of £20,000 can be imposed on those who breach the 90-day rule, but investigations are expensive and breaches are difficult to prove.

Local authorities have called for a comprehensive register to be in place by the end of this Parliament so that they can get a good overview of short-term rentals in their area and whether they are used as permanent holiday homes.

About 90 percent of the 118 properties in Forset Court, a block next to Hyde Park, were used for holiday lets, Westminster researchers found.

Residents of the Park West apartment complex across the street have complained of loud parties and overcrowding “breaking their peace,” while revelers rent out apartments almost every night of the week. It is said that both blocks host more tourists every week than the Ritz.

An analysis of 2,800 short-term rental properties available in the capital over the past three years found that more than a fifth previously had longer-term tenants.

Comment: Why this is bad for generational rent

By Matt Noble, Cabinet Member for Tenants at Westminster Council

There’s no doubt that short-term companies like Airbnb have revolutionized travel and allowed people to see the world on a budget.

But in London there is a downside to this. Since the end of the lockdown, the short-term rental boom has come back into force.

Entire buildings are being hollowed out into virtual hotels; One apartment building in Westminster even became famous for offering more rooms per night than the Ritz.

It is clear that the 90-day limit on short-term rentals is being widely abused and the council is investigating 2,400 suspected cases of abuse of the system – the highest number ever.

We believe that the lax legislation proposed by the Government risks shielding thousands of short-term rental properties from the ‘normal’ private rental market. This is bad news for ‘generation rent’. My job title on the council is Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Tenants – a challenging role as rents in Westminster skyrocket.

The government must take action to ensure that people who were born or work here have a chance to live here. The municipality provides affordable housing, but we cannot conjure up the stock from thin air.

Short-term rentals are a long-term housing crisis. It’s time our tenants get a fair deal.

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