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House of Lords Hansard
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Housing: Holiday Lets
07 March 2018
Volume 789

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on the availability of long-term housing for rent of holiday lets, including those listed as rooms to let, particularly in London.

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

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My Lords, the Government support the sharing economy. We do not hold information on short-term holiday lets. We believe that it is for local authorities to assess the impact within their area. The Government monitor broader trends in private rented housing through the English Housing Survey. We condemn, however, any abuse of planning laws, and those in breach face a fine of up to £20,000.

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I thank the Minister for that Answer, but remind him that I have asked this Question since 2015. In the previous Session, I tabled a Question for Written Answer on a number of occasions: for example, on 14 September, then again in October and in February. Each time the answer that came back was just, “No”, or sometimes, “No, it is not possible”, or, “No, we are not thinking of it”—but it was basically “No”. Why can I not be given the reason why the answer is just “No” without any accompanying explanation, when the role of local authorities in protecting residents who are being abused in their blocks is terribly important?

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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for a reminder that I did not really need: namely, that she has asked this Question over a period of time. If she reviews the Answers that she has had, she will see that they go into considerable detail. Suffice it to say that significant progress has been made. The noble Baroness would probably do well to discuss her circumstances with the Short Term Accommodation Association, as I have suggested previously. However, Airbnb physically cannot let a property for more than 90 days in a year; it has a system designed to stop that. I think that goes some considerable way to addressing this, but I would be happy to direct the noble Baroness to meet people at the Short Term Accommodation Association who are responsible for this significant progress.

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My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests in the register. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, has raised this issue many times and deserves great credit for her persistence. Can the noble Lord say what work he and his department have done to make sure that holiday lets are not used by landlords to get round their legal obligations?

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My Lords, I certainly can. I have spent a considerable time speaking to the Short Term Accommodation Association, which makes up the bulk of the people in this market, and in particular Airbnb. It proposes a data-sharing protocol with Westminster council to enable the sharing of data. The basic problem at present is that different suppliers cannot share the data one to another—so Airbnb can take care of a particular problem relating to it but cannot share the data with other providers. Airbnb is by far the largest provider, but there are many others. To enable providers to share data, they need a trigger from the local authority—any local authority that has a concern—so they can then share the data. This would take care of the problem. I will send a letter to the noble Lord on the progress being made, copy it to all noble Lords participating in the debate, and leave a copy in the Library. However, I invite my noble friend to speak to the Short Term Accommodation Association, as I know that she has particular concerns about her properties.

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My Lords, the problem is enforcement, as the Minister rightly said. Westminster is probably the best example of an authority that uses the enforcement procedure, but most authorities do not use the enforcement procedure for the 90-day limit to which the Minister referred. The market has completely changed. Will the Minister also address the fact that holiday lets and Airbnb lets are now dealt with very much on a commercial basis, but in blocks of flats very often one person or one company owns all the flats and let them through Airbnb? It is not people just earning a buck or two on their own home.

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I remind the noble Lord that of course this is a London issue. The 90-day limit applies only in London—and, significantly, it is a real issue only in the inner London boroughs. I am encouraging the Short Term Accommodation Association to speak to those boroughs—as indeed it is doing—to see if it can carry forward the process that it is engaged in with Westminster into the other boroughs. For example, it is developing a Considerate Nightly Letting Charter with Westminster Council—again, that could be replicated for other councils. I remind noble Lords that, where a local authority has a suspicion that the law is being breached, it can apply to the Secretary of State to restrict the 90-day power and can take enforcement action. There is the power there; it is for local authorities to do that.

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My Lords, I refer noble Lords to my interest in the register. Is my noble friend the Minister aware that in one of our wards in Westminster, where I was the leader until January last year, as much as 10% of the properties are let out on short-term lets, many on a commercial basis and for far more than 90 days because multiple agencies are used? Is it not the case that a simple registration system to allow local authorities to know when the 90 days had been breached would allow cost-effective enforcement of the 90-day rule?

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I thank my noble friend for that question. As I indicated, the action that the Short Term Accommodation Association is proposing will get round the particular problem that we have with the Data Protection Act, because it will then be able to share the data. The power lies with local authorities and I would gently say to my noble friend that if Westminster has a suspicion that the law is being breached, it really should pursue the matter.

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My Lords, does the Minister recognise that in Westminster and other inner London authorities, in places that were originally social housing, Airbnb and other organisations are setting up short-term lets that in most cases are in breach of the leasehold or tenancy? Does he also recognise that local authorities should enforce the leases and tenancies they already have and should be backed by central government in doing so?

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Obviously if there is an issue between landlord and tenant, it is for the landlord to enforce that. The Government have no role in ensuring that leases are enforced. We would encourage that, but that is a matter for the landlord. It happened relatively recently in relation to a case called, I think, Nemcova in the London Borough of Barnet. There is the power to do just that—but it is, as I am sure the noble Lord appreciates, a matter of contract, not a matter in relation to the law regarding landlord and tenant. I will say, in support of what Airbnb is doing, that it is within the law because it is ensuring that there is no let of more than 90 days on its watch. I do not think that we can reasonably ask it to do more. It cannot share the data under the law; it is looking at this protocol to enable it to do so.

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My Lords, although this question is related, to a certain extent, to London—but not entirely, as the Question says—is the Minister aware that in certain national parks, we are not talking about 10% short-term lets: in some villages we are talking about 50%, 60% or 70% and the local authorities have no authority at all to stop it? Will the Government look into this, because it is destroying rural communities right across the country?

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I appreciate that the noble Lord is speaking about his home area. I know he speaks with authority on the Lake District. I am very happy to look at that issue if he would like to come forward and arrange to see me with some evidence. It is obviously a very different issue because there is no suggestion of a breach of the law; it is about whether there is a particular problem.