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Westminster council calls for curbs on Airbnb-style lets

Westminster council is calling for new powers to curb the use of Airbnb-style rental properties and crack down on rogue landlords who are “making life hell for many of our residents”. 

The London council is urging the UK government to introduce regulations that would allow it and other local authorities to refuse permission to homeowners who wanted to let their properties out for days or weeks at a time.

Westminster also wants people who rent properties through booking platforms, such as Booking.com and Airbnb to be registered, making it easier for the council to track down and fine any landlords who breach short-term let rules.

As pandemic restrictions have eased across the country and visitors have returned to the capital, there has been a rise in complaints about late-night parties, overcrowding and even sex work taking place in rental flats, said the council.

“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,” said Rachael Robathan, leader of Westminster city council, who emphasised that the authority supports responsible use of short-term lets.

Short-term lets have ballooned in London and other popular tourist destinations since the launch of services such as Airbnb, founded in 2008, which allow homeowners to list their properties for a period of days or weeks.

Those services have been welcomed by travellers and provided a windfall for hosts, but the proliferation of short-term lets has also been blamed for a rise in antisocial behaviour and the hollowing out of city centres. Other cities, including Paris and Amsterdam, have already introduced registration schemes that generally require hosts to register with the council who is staying in their home and for how long.

Westminster claimed there were 13,000 London homes available for short-term let, many of them in the centre of the city. The “industrial scale” of letting has drawn complaints from residents.

One resident of William Mews, close to Hyde Park, complained after a recent party at a neighbouring rental property. “There’s nothing desirable about having a commercial enterprise doing business in a quiet residential street that is now at my front door.”

They said they feared “to answer their own door” with the “narrow street clogged by extra vehicles”.

According to Westminster, there were well over 100 flats listed on short-term letting sites in a single apartment block close to Edgware Road — and it recently had more rooms advertised than there were in the entire Ritz hotel.

“Our city inspectors work closely with the police to close unauthorised events held at short-term lets as quickly and as safely as possible,” said Robathan.

“But ultimately we need more restrictions and powers given to us as a local authority to tackle short-term letting antisocial behaviour.”

The government is expected to announce a call for evidence into tourist accommodation in the coming weeks, and Westminster will formally submit its proposals then.

Airbnb said it was already cracking down on antisocial behaviour by users of 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 company said.

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