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Government proposal aims to legalise Airbnb rentals in London

Jamie Rigg, @jmerigg
February 10, 2015
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Hop onto a site like Airbnb or One Fine Stay and you'll find plenty of houses, flats and rooms available in London for short-term rental. While these are perfect for visitors after a more homely (and sometimes cheaper) stay in the capital, those wanting to squeeze a few quid out of their dormant spaces aren't exactly doing things by the book. A law, which many see as outdated, essentially prevents Londoners from letting their pads out for less than three months at a time (without appropriate planning permission), and some of the city's boroughs have tried taking legal action against wannabe landlords on this basis.

This is especially true in upmarket areas like Westminster, the City of London, Chelsea and Kensington, where local councils argue it could foster housing shortages and turn residential areas into nuisance-ridden, decentralized hotels. So, in an effort to curb patchy implementation of the law, and to support Londoners wanting to tap into the "sharing economy," the government has announced a proposal that would make short-term rentals through sites like Airbnb legal; though unsurprisingly, it's already drawing flak.

As Housing Minister Brandon Lewis put it, the government aims to modernise the law with "common sense measures" that allow short-term rentals while also protecting against unwanted side-effects. The proposal explains at length the benefits of removing "unnecessary red tape," with the major change to legislation letting residents rent their empty space for a maximum of 90 days per year. The fine print states rental properties must be residential and liable for Council Tax, thus excluding places of business, and opportunistic landlords can be stripped of the new privilege if they don't play by the rules. Local councils can also request "small localised exemptions" when "there is a strong case to do so."

Granted, we're not experts in legalese, but the proposal certainly seems a careful attempt to overhaul outdated legislation while giving boroughs a clear avenue to hold troublesome or unjustified rental opportunities to account. The government still has some convincing to do, however, given Westminster City Council has already rejected the plans in their current form. It wants the maximum time a property or room can be rented for cut to just one month, "so we can be sure that it is for holiday purposes." The council also asks that transient landlords should be required to log short-term rentals -- no doubt so it can follow-up swiftly if there's cause to complain -- though it admits the proposal is "a step in the right direction."

"Our own observations have shown us the scale of the issue," Westminster Councillor Heather Acton said, "from housing benefit fraud and illegal immigration, to vomit on the doorstep and fires in the corridors." And who says London ain't fun?

[Image credit: Jun-Dai Bates-Kobashigawa, Flickr]

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