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Short-Term Letting: Deregulation

Volume 774: debated on Wednesday 19 October 2016

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address the impact on long-term residential rental properties in London of the deregulation of short-term letting last year.

My Lords, while reminding the House of my interests as declared in the register, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Government support the shared economy and monitor trends in private rented housing through the English housing survey. It is right that Londoners should have similar rights as elsewhere in England and be free to sublet their homes where their tenancy, contract or mortgage allows. We do not support the abuse of planning laws, and those in breach face a fine of up to £20,000.

I thank the Minister for that Answer but, in view of the report in today’s press that Gavin Barwell has just announced a clampdown on rogue landlords and a return of powers to local councils to enable them to deal with crowding in residential lettings, will the Minister confirm that the licensing powers for local councils will also cover Airbnb lettings, which I have reported to the House on a number of occasions, whereby 10 people are routinely occupying one-bedroom flats in some residential blocks for a series of short lets that are not allowed under those leases?

My Lords, I think that to a degree my noble friend has covered the issue with her last point. Powers already exist for landlords to enforce provisions if they are in breach of leases. There are also planning regulations. The mandatory listing changes in relation to HMOs announced yesterday in another place by Gavin Barwell relate to residences where there are shared facilities. That would not cover tower blocks, which I think is the area on which my noble friend is focusing her attention.

My Lords, since councils lost the powers of licensing short lets last year, is it correct that the only recourse that other residents in a block have in cases of threatening behaviour or damage to the property is to call the police?

My Lords, that is not the case. There are powers in relation to London. This is only a London issue, too; elsewhere in the country, prior to the change in the Deregulation Act 2015, there was a power to let without limitation. In London there is now a power to let for up to 90 consecutive days, so anything in breach of that is a breach of planning law and it rests with the local authority to enforce it. As I have indicated, there are provisions in leases. There are also of course provisions in relation to statutory nuisance; if litter should be left around or should there be noise, there are existing powers. I do not think we need additional ones.

My Lords, what assurance can the Minister give the House that the Government are looking carefully at the health and safety, fire prevention and noise and nuisance aspects of short lets? They seem to be using not very satisfactory existing law instead of looking at the situation as a whole. Can he assure us that the Government have a picture of this developing situation?

My Lords, the noble Baroness refers to an issue that is London-only, because prior to the change in the Deregulation Act, the position was exactly the same in other areas of England. The recent change in the law brought London to a degree in line with the rest of the country, except that there are more restrictions in London, because there is a 90-day limit. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, existing powers on statutory nuisance are and have always been available to other tenants and landlords. Of course we monitor the situation, but there is already a satisfactory range of powers.

My Lords, if short lets such as Airbnb usage become a full-time use of residential property, I believe that it then becomes business usage. Can my noble friend confirm that planning permission is required in such cases?

My Lords, as I said, there is an existing power. In relation to the change of law in London, if a let exceeds 90 consecutive days, it requires a planning use change. If there is a total change of user, it would also require planning permission under existing law. Also, as I said, powers exist in many leases. Recently, in the so-called Nemcova case in the London Borough of Enfield, a landlord enforced provisions in a lease in just such a situation.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that according to the Inside Airbnb website, a total of 42,646 properties are listed in London alone? Is he further aware of those 42,646, 17,593 are multiple listings—in other words, the host manages numerous properties? Does he agree that hosts with multiple listings are more likely to be running a business, unlikely to be living in the property—certainly not all of them at the same time—and potentially in violation of the Deregulation Act’s 90-day limit on short-term lettings? Do the Government really think this is satisfactory? If not, what more are they going to do about it?

My Lords, as the noble Lord said, if it is in excess of the 90-day limit in London, it is in breach of the law. Powers exist with local authorities to enforce that: it is for local authorities to do so as the power rests with them. In addition, as I mentioned, a case came into the department today of a landlord saying to a tenant, “You are in breach of the law. Please take down this listing: it would be a breach of your lease”. The combination of those two things—the power in the contract or lease to enforce a particular provision and the existing powers of local authorities—should meet the cases to which the noble Lord refers.

In light of the previous question about the safety of tenants, can the Minister clarify whether the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 apply to landlords with such short-term rental properties and how such regulations can be enforced to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning among residents in places where the gas appliances are old and unsafe?

I will have to write the noble Baroness on that rather technical issue. It is an important issue but I have no knowledge of that and would not want to mislead her, so I will reply to her in writing and ensure that a copy is placed in the Library.

My Lords, at the very least, the Government should take action to ensure that holiday letting company websites are checking that houses on their sites are genuine lets of less than 90 days. Otherwise, there is a risk that statutory regulation, safety requirements and insurance provisions are not being complied with.

My Lords, that was an exhortation to the Government. As I said, the power lies with local authorities. There are things that the Government should be doing—I would be the first to admit that—but this rests with local authorities and I encourage them to do that. That is the position under the Deregulation Act. It is also a responsibility of landlords to ensure that the terms of the lease are adhered to. This is not a direct responsibility of the Government. We ensure that councils have the proper powers and landlords have the facility to go to court, but the responsibility rests with local authorities and landlords.

I speak as a former chairman of the London Borough of Islington’s housing committee. Does my noble friend recollect the Rachman period and De Lusignan? Against that background, does a local authority today have the legal right to check the status of any property? If, as many of us believe, the worst rogue landlords do not admit to being landlords at all, who has the authority to investigate these situations?

My Lords, I was still at junior school in the Rachman period, so I have only a vague recollection of it. From the noble Lord’s experience in Islington and since, he is aware of the situation in dealing with rogue landlords and others. We are very keen to do that, which is exactly why yesterday Gavin Barwell in another place announced regulations, which we are consulting on. It is important that we do, as I have indicated, give the proper powers to local authorities as we have done and say, “This is a matter for you”.