Karen Buck

Working tirelessly for Westminster North

Karen Buck MP

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With Airbnb booking up 130% in a year in London, and Westminster topping the list of boroughs with short-let accommodation, I’ve written to the council for more information on the local impact. I’m all for the ‘sharing economy’ but the sector needs managing and regulating too. 


 

09/08/2017

 

Stuart Love

Executive Director City Management and Communities

Westminster City Council

 

Dear Stuart,

The impact and management of short-let/Airbnb accommodation in Westminster

I am writing to you again regarding short-let accommodation in Westminster, and to ask what further steps the Council are planning to take to respond to the problems this rapidly growing sector poses in respect of loss of residential accommodation and the impact on neighbours and communities. We all agree that this part of the ‘sharing economy’ has advantages for home-owners and visitors alike, but it needs to be properly managed and breaches of the rules swiftly and effectively enforced.

You will no doubt be aware of the research published recently by Colliers International/Hotelschoool The Hague, which found that the number of nights booked in London via the Airbnb site rose by 130% last year, from 2 million to 4.62 million, equivalent to 12,900 bookings a day. The research also indicated that the number of properties listed rose by 57%, to 138,000 and over half were made by hosts with more than one listing. Westminster is the borough with the largest number of listings, with over 150,000 stays in 2016, and five boroughs (Westminster, Tower Hamlets, Camden, Kensington and Hackney) account for half of all Airbnb stays in London.

Last year, Westminster Council suggested that 3,000 whole properties were being advertised on short let sites- a figure which rose substantially after the Deregulation Act came into effect and could have risen substantially further more recently if the Colliers research is correct. Far from the original vision of the ‘sharing economy’ we know that this suggests an increasingly commercialised operation, with rental incomes vastly exceeding those charged for Assured Shorthold tenancies

In addition, it is now some months since Airbnb announced their own plans to enforce the 90-day maximum short-let rule. This was a welcome step, but as we know, there are a number of loopholes (scope for owners moving between lettings platforms; potential difficulties in tracking addresses), and the new research clearly suggests that the result has not been to reduce short-lets overall.

As you are also aware, there has been a number of complaints about the impact of short-let properties on neighbours, including those arising from all-night parties in Little Venice and elsewhere.

It would therefore be very helpful to know what the Council is doing to monitor the changing situation and what you consider to be the next steps in:

  • Ensuring compliance with the 90 day limit
  • Helping to make sure we do not see a continued loss of much needed residential accommodation
  • Tackling enforcement issues, from the use of short-lets for parties to routine concerns about noise, rubbish, security and breaches of lease and insurance provisions.
  • Establishing what additional contribution the short-let sector can make toward the cost of enforcement.

Could you therefore let me know:

  1. Does the Colliers research align with the Council’s own monitoring of in respect of the number of lettings over the past two years?
  2. Has Westminster updated the figure of 3,000 properties now largely/exclusively in the short-let sector? Does the council have any means of monitoring occupancy levels?
  3. How many breaches of the 90- day lettings limit were a) reported b) investigated c) resulted in action in each of the last two years, and how many such files are currently open?
  4. Have there been any properties in the social rented sector a) reported b) found to be used for short-let purposes in the last two years?
  5. What steps are being taken to ensure that leasehold properties within CWH blocks are not being let in such as to compromise the lease or insurance arrangements?
  6. On how many occasions have complaints been receiving regarding noise, nuisance or anti-social behaviour and have any actions been taken with Airbnb or other lettings platforms as a result?
  7. What is the estimated net cost to the council of monitoring and enforcement of short let accommodation in the current financial year?

Thank you very much for your assistance and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes

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Karen Buck

The impact and management of short-let/Airbnb accommodation in Westminster

With Airbnb booking up 130% in a year in London, and Westminster topping the list of boroughs with short-let accommodation, I’ve written to the council for more information on the...

Brexit.jpg

The rights of EU citizens in the UK

I already know from my ‘postbag’ about the potentially detrimental effects of Brexit on my constituents including the many thousands of EU nationals living in Westminster North. Citizens of other EU countries resident in the UK were excluded from voting in the referendum, and then left with uncertainty about their future. 

EU citizens not only contribute to our society: they are an essential part of our society, and certainly should not be regarded as ‘bargaining chips’.  It is shameful that the Prime Minister rejected repeated attempts to resolve this issue before Article 50 was triggered, which is one of the reasons I voted against it. 

Government Proposals

On 26 June 2017, the government finally published their proposals. They suggest that EU citizens with five years’ continuous residence (prior to a yet unspecified date) can apply for “settled status”. 

EU citizens who have been in the UK for less than five years (from another unspecified date) will be allowed to stay in the UK with “temporary status” while they build up to the five years’ residency required for settled status.  Building up the five years will mean accepting restrictions on leaving the country temporarily. This is all far too little too late. 

Currently, the majority of the 3 million+ EU citizens in the UK do not need permission to live or work here.  Under the proposal ALL will have to apply for “settled status.”  This even applies to EU citizens who already have Permanent Residency (which requires a form of more than 80 pages) or those who have been here more than 20 years.  Failure to do so would render an EU citizen unlawful and they would be committing a criminal offence by remaining in the UK after the agreed transition period.  There will be an unknown level of fee to apply. 

It is suggested that residents who gain “settled status” will be treated the same way as UK nationals in terms of benefits, pension, social security and access to public services, although unlike UK citizens they may need to show ID cards.  But "settled status" would not give EU citizens the same family or legal rights they currently enjoy.  For example, “settled status” would be lost after two years’ absence from the UK; there would be much stricter family reunion rules, and uncertainty about the right to vote in local elections. 

As your representative in Parliament I want to know what you think about these proposals, and about how the current situation is affecting your life. It would be very helpful if you could fill in  my survey here. I will use the results to campaign for full rights for EU citizens. 

I will also do my best to resolve individual problems on your behalf. Please call my office on 020 8968 7999 or email buckk@parliament.uk 

For further information on the proposals for EU citizens in UK:

EU Letter and Survey

The rights of EU citizens in the UK I already know from my ‘postbag’ about the potentially detrimental effects of Brexit on my constituents including the many thousands of EU...

Dear Resident

The horrific events at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington have shocked the country. We have been united in grief and so many have been moved to acts of great generosity and compassion. These events however have underlined deep social divides that are clearly recognisable here in neighbouring Westminster, and that are now, finally and rightly, becoming part of our national conversation.

The first priority is to make absolutely certain of the safety of the many thousands of people living in other tower blocks, and to reassure those residents who are understandably anxious.

Since last Wednesday, I and local Councillors have been talking to Westminster Council officers and City West Homes (CWH) staff about a number of key issues and focusing on getting answers communicated to residents by the Council and CWH.

1. Seeking clarity on the advice about whether to stay or go in the event of a fire

At present the advice to residents of high-rise blocks from the fire service and Council remains unchanged but this must be resolved and clarified as a matter of great urgency across the country. If the advice changes then the Council and CWH must rapidly install communal fire alarms in all its blocks.

2. Getting answers about the cladding of Westminster’s tower blocks

As events unfolded it quickly became clear that the cladding at Grenfell may have been contributed to the disaster and that the same company was involved in installing cladding on the Warwick and Brindley Estates in Westbourne Ward.  The Council must urgently investigate the safety of the cladding on all Westminster’s tower blocks, and residents, councillors and I told which independent investigators are appointed by Westminster to do this work.

Westminster Council has informed residents that all fire and building regulation standards have been met regarding the Warwick and Brindley cladding and that the type of cladding used appears to have been different to that used at Grenfell Tower. However, it is imperative that independent investigators confirm, as a matter of urgency, that the materials used on these towers and other blocks are both safe and correctly installed. This includes confirming that there is no cavity between the cladding and the concrete, and examining the safety of external decking put up on some of the blocks. These checks must be done as quickly as possible to provide reassurance or facilitate urgent action to help ease the worries of residents. If action is required to alter or remove the cladding on the Warwick or Brindley towers or any others in Westminster it is important that leaseholders, who faced huge bills for the installation of the cladding, are not made to pay yet again.

3. Improving fire safety: The provision of sprinklers and secondary means of escape

We need clear information about whether any of Westminster’s council-owned tower blocks currently have sprinkler systems installed. From what is known, and the fact that such systems were not mandatory on new buildings until after 2007, it is clear that there needs to be work urgently done to retrofit sprinklers to all of Westminster’s tower blocks. The council should move forward with such plans (as Croydon Council have already announced) and they have said they are looking into this. It must be done as a matter of urgency. There needs to be further work done to investigate the feasibility of the installation of secondary emergency staircases in blocks to provide an alternative method of exit.  I have written to Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to call for the government to provide resources to assist Westminster and other local authorities to do this.

Understanding who is living in our blocks

Over recent months Councillors have raised concerns about the lack of information the Council and CWH hold about the people living in their blocks, while I have been actively campaigning against illegal short-term lets. Many flats in CWH blocks are owned by Housing Associations and private landlords who often fail to provide CWH with up-to-date information about their tenants. The tragic events at Grenfell show that this is extremely important work which must be prioritised. Housing associations must improve their reporting and the Council’s legal team must look at what can be done to require private landlords to provide accurate information.

4. Fire safety standards in leasehold flats

Many flats in Westminster blocks are privately-owned and then let out as private tenancies. Issues around the enforcement of fire safety standards in leasehold flats, including those that are short-let, have been raised for some time. Questions have asked about what can be done to ensure all leaseholders comply with the safety standards expected of tenanted properties- in particular, whether action can be taken to ensure that appropriate fire doors are fitted in these flats, required by law in Council-owned properties. The Council must provide advice and support to leaseholders about some of the long-term implications of the tragedy for their properties.

5. Rubbish dumping

While the issue of the dumping of potentially flammable material does not seem to have been a factor in the Grenfell tragedy it remains a significant fire risk on our estates. In recent months, local Councillors have been working with residents to push for a swifter response from CWH cleaning teams to remove hazardous materials that are dumped, particularly at weekends, when most CWH staff are not on duty.

6. Meeting housing need

The immediate priority is to get answers to these and other questions to ensure our residents are kept safe. However, far too many people are living in over-crowded or unsuitable, and in some cases, poor quality, homes in inner London. Increasingly, homelessness now means being moved many miles away from local schools and community support. After the immediate crisis is over, and safety is guaranteed, the Government must look again at what is causing inner London’s housing crisis and commit to providing the help needed to resolve it.

I hope this is helpful and I will do my best to keep you informed of any developments.

 

Yours sincerely

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Karen Buck MP

 

buckk@parliament.uk

020 8968 7999 

My letter to residents regarding Westminster towers

Dear Resident The horrific events at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington have shocked the country. We have been united in grief and so many have been moved to acts of...


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