Karen Buck

Working tirelessly for Westminster North

Short Lets Report

Short/holiday lets (and other aspects of the London housing crisis)

Thank you to the many local residents who completed this survey on line or by returning a newsletter.

The growth of the holiday/short-let sector is becoming a significant issue in London- and especially inner London- as figures collected by Westminster Council illustrate. Of course it is reasonable for people to be able to let rooms or their property for short periods without excessive interference. However, there are still rules which do need to be enforced. Short and holiday lets should not interfere with the right of neighbours to have the peaceful enjoyment of their homes, and care must be taken to prevent much needed residential property simply turning into an arm of the hotel industry.

I also asked a few other questions gathering thoughts on aspects of the housing crisis as it most affects us locally.

A summary of the responses are set out below. This information, and the additional detail many people provided, will be of great help when I attend the Greater London Authority summit on short/holiday lets, and introduce my short Bill in Parliament on the subject, so ‘thank you’ again, and please do feel free to keep your comments coming.

1.      Short/holiday lets 

I asked you questions about the impact of short-lets, including those advertised on platforms such as Airbnb, on your neighbourhood.

  • 80% (out of total of 218) thought that it should be easier to enforce the rules that properties should not be let out for more than 90 days (which currently requires planning permission).
  • 81% had experience of a property/properties near you being rented out on a holiday or short-let basis?
  • 55% had experienced problems.

Some of you questioned whether there is a “real, evidence based problem”. Another pointed out that there is a difference between short-term residential lets (more than 6 months) and Airbnb lets (which are often for holidays and for no longer than 6 months).

Some of you mentioned a positive experience of using Airbnb yourselves or Airbnb use in your building:
‘on a positive note, we have met some lovely people who have rented the flat!’

short lets are a…‘very useful way to get money in people’s pockets’

However, many of you have experienced serious problems with short-term lettings in your neighbourhood.  In brief, the problems include:

  • Noise – people arriving and leaving noisily in the middle of the night, loud parties, wrong buzzers being used at night
  • Security – short term occupants obtaining keys and security codes (leading to at least one burglary?)
  • Rubbish left untied, or left out on the wrong days or in the wrong place
  • Drugs and prostitution
  • Loss of community feeling

 You wanted better enforcement again to ensure holiday/short-lets kept within the law and didn’t cause wider problems.

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2. Foreign ownership of property in London [Q1]

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We are an international city and very much the stronger and better for it. Ownership of property will understandably reflect that fact. However, concerns have risen in recent years, and perhaps especially regarding the ‘off-plan’ purchase of new homes before they are even marketed in the UK. This lay behind Sadiq Khan’s decision to hold an inquiry and establish what impact this was having.  Of the 218 respondents a significant majority (84%) supported the Mayor of London’s inquiry into the impact of foreign ownership on the London property market. Around 70 of you wrote comments.

16 of these comments identified a link between foreign ownership and the high prices of properties and rents in London and a few want foreign ownership banned.

‘Foreign investment in London property is making the city unaffordable for anyone except the very rich.’

Some of you are concerned about the “luxury” developments which are aimed at the overseas market. You were also concerned the link between foreign ownership and money laundering, corruption and tax avoidance.

However, many of you felt that the shortage of affordable housing in Central London has many complex causes – planning restrictions being mentioned frequently.

It struck me that many of your comments suggested that the main problem was that property was being left empty.

‘There are new blocks of flats near me where almost no flats have lights on at night.’

One of you suggested that the Mayor’s inquiry

‘should be expanded to cover the impact of empty homes.’

 

3. Increasing access to affordable homes

I asked you whether London house builders should be required to ensure that at least 35% of homes in all new scheme are affordable.

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A large majority (76%) of you agreed with this question [96/127].

In your comments, many of you felt that “affordable” needs to be carefully defined.

Affordability should be related to earnings and not be a % of average rents.

By affordable, it should be within the actual pay range of most people which is 20 – 25K, not 32K.

These should also be properly “affordable” – when the average couple who are both working full-time can’t afford them, how are they “affordable”?

Some of you felt that 35% isn’t high enough and others felt that it was probably too high and would “disincentivise builders from developing”.

Whilst one regretted the disappearance of the “social mix that used to make London so successful” another felt that “people who can afford to live here [Westminster] should live here and those who can’t afford should live where they can afford”.

 4.      Changing the private rented sector

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A great number of you told me that you had wanted to choose all three options (and some of you said that you would have chosen two).

However, a few of you were opposed to all three options and concerned that these measures could limit the availability of property to rent. These comments give me a good indication of your views.

a)      Longer tenancies

Many of you supported the longer tenancy option, with some of you thinking that this would result in more stable communities. However, in your comments, a number of you questioned whether it was realistic.

‘Not all landlords will have enough confidence of their financial position in 5 years’ time to want to contractually oblige themselves for this period. Conversely, shorter lets (1 year) are favoured by a lot of tenants who want to retain flexibility.’

A few of you referred to the fact that other countries have a 2-year minimum length of contract. However, a number of tenants said that they would not want to be bound by a long-term agreement. Others felt that there shouldn’t be any restriction on a landlord’s use of their property.

b)      Limits on rent rises

Although many of you (but not all) supported limits on rent increases, very few of you expanded on this in your comments. A couple of you suggested that rent rises should be limited to RPI during a tenancy.

c)      Limits on estate agent charges

Again, this was supported by many of you, giving examples of “rip off” charges of £300 for reprinting the rental agreement.

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