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Property: London Lettings

Volume 758: debated on Wednesday 7 January 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Answer by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon on 8 December (HL Deb, cols. 1593–6), what assessment they have made of the views of London residents about Clause 33 of the Deregulation Bill and the impact of the proposed changes to controls on London lettings on long-term residents.

My Lords, the Government published the discussion document Review of Property Conditions in the Private Rented Sector on 12 February 2014. The document sought views from the general public on whether the relevant provisions of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973 should be reviewed or updated. The Government are carefully considering the representations we received, and a formal response to the consultation will be published shortly.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, but I do not know why—and so I ask him why—the Government intend to take away London’s powers to have at least some control over this rapid subletting of short-term holiday accommodation. Under the new terrorism regulations, how are the obligations dealt with to ensure that people coming into such blocks of flats are not in any way unsafe for other local residents? Their behaviour when they are in the blocks certainly causes great danger, just on the local level of leaving doors open. Westminster Council has six officers working full-time on this, and they have never yet lost an appeal when they wished to enforce action.

My Lords, I note my noble friend’s concerns. I also wish to draw noble Lords’ attention to my interests in the register regarding leasehold properties. In response to her question, the Government’s intention is clear. We wish to use the Deregulation Bill to help reform what we believe to be the outdated provisions of Section 25 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973. Londoners who want to rent out their homes for less than 90 consecutive days currently have to apply for planning permission. We believe that this does not apply anywhere else in the country, and this brings London in line with other parts of the country. As to her concerns about terrorism and other such acts, of course the provisions and the ability of the police, the local authority and local residents to intervene will still be very much available. We have introduced new safeguards under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which came into force in November last year.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that when the current legislation was introduced in 1973, it was to protect permanent accommodation. Today, we have a housing crisis, an increase in short-term lets and a threat to permanent housing stock. Why are the Government intent on making a bad situation worse?

The noble Lady referred to my recall of 1973. I was but a toddler then, but I have certainly read up on it. Let me assure her that the purpose behind the Government’s proposals is not in any way to reduce the housing stock, but to allow Londoners who are home owners and wish to put their properties up for rent on a short-term basis of up to 90 days to do so, without the need for increased bureaucracy. The measure will amend Section 25 to permit regulations that allow genuine householders to supplement their income by renting out their property. As to London’s housing shortage, I of course recognise the importance of London homes for Londoners, and the change will not remove the protection available in Section 25.

I am sure the Minister would agree with me that the sort of occupation that would be facilitated by aspects of the proposed relaxation effectively becomes a form of commercial activity, and is treated as such for many regulatory, safety and taxation purposes. Would he not agree with me that, given the implications for the safety and amenity of regular residents, this matter is a proper concern of the development and building control functions that are exercised on a case-by-case basis on behalf of the community by the local authority?

My Lords, I assure the noble Earl that the Government have clarified that they intend to use the regulation-making power only to allow residents to let their homes on a short-term, temporary basis, such as when they are on holiday, without the need for planning permission. It is not intended to be used on a permanent or commercial basis. On the concerns that the noble Earl expressed, there will of course be safeguards. As he may be aware, provision will be made in the legislation for exemptions for areas and particular types of accommodation, which will be subject to review. Finally, I assure the noble Earl that we are working with local authorities, particularly those that have expressed concerns, to ensure that regulations provide the correct balance by allowing the kind of short-term letting that we wish to see while keeping the safeguards in place.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that for many tenants there remains a significant risk of eviction when asking landlords for entirely reasonable repairs? Does he therefore welcome the amendments from these Benches to the Deregulation Bill, which reflect Sarah Teather’s Private Member’s Bill on revenge evictions, which sadly did not make progress in the other place?

My noble friend makes an important point. She will be aware that the Government have looked at the issue of evictions carefully and we are generally supportive of the provisions in the Private Member’s Bill introduced by Sarah Teather. We will look carefully at that Bill to ensure that the correct provisions are made when this comes into legislation, but I share the sentiments and concerns that my noble friend has expressed.

My Lords, the consultation that the Minister referred to ended last February, almost a year ago. Why have the Government taken so long to respond to it? If they claim to be in favour of localism and if they are intent on deregulating short-term lets, why should not London local authorities have the right to determine the extent, if at all, to which this deregulation runs in their areas?

As the noble Lord will be aware, we are working closely with London’s local authorities. As a former member of a London local authority, I can assure him that there is differing opinion between those boroughs within the central part of the capital city and those further afield. As I said earlier, it is important that we strike the right balance, I assure the noble Lord that we are working with local authorities in London to ensure that. We are working in conjunction with them to ensure that the provisions are in the interests both of residents who choose to let their homes and of those who choose not to.

My Lords, in his answers, my noble friend the Minister has referred to resident home owners letting on short lets. How does this apply to non-resident home owners? I appreciate that this is perhaps a particular problem in London, which suggests to me that London should be made a special case.

My noble friend makes an important point about non-residents. We have made provisions such that, for any non-resident seeking to take advantage of selling their property, there will capital gains tax and repercussions in that regard.