My Lords, local planning authorities already have a range of ways to tackle any breaches of planning control, which should be used in a proportionate manner. Any enforcement action is discretionary and should be undertaken when the authority considers it to be expedient, having regard to any material considerations.
I thank the Minister for that Answer, but he does not seem to remember that last year we deregulated and took many powers away from local authorities, just at the time when New York and Paris were about to regulate. Right now, from all around the world—from Venice, Australia and Canada—we are hearing about a complete loss of long-term residential accommodation for those who want it. One country this week has announced in the press that it will not allow any of these short Airbnb-type holidays in blocks occupied by long-term residents. Does he not think there is a case to be made for that here?
My noble friend should take some credit for the recent decision by Airbnb to stop homeowners letting properties for more than the 90 permitted days. Her tireless campaign in this House, supported by noble Lords on both sides, has led to that change of mind. It is greatly welcome and I hope that others in this market will follow suit.
On her question about problems in leasehold flats, quite extensive powers are already available. I shall quote briefly from a letter that I got. Like many other noble Lords, I am a leaseholder of a flat in London, which is not available for short-term letting. But one person in the block advertised their flat and, as a result, this is what all the leaseholders got:
“It has been brought to our attention that a leaseholder is currently subletting their flat on a short term basis via the website”,
X. It goes on to say:
“The terms of the lease for”,
“do not permit sub-lets for a period of less than six months and not without prior written consent from the Landlord. It is considered that this leaseholder is in breach of the terms of their lease. Furthermore, Westminster Council prohibit short term lets and can impose a fine of up to £20,000 to you for non-compliance. Please refrain from short-term letting your flat and arrange to have the advertisements removed immediately. Failure to do so could result in the local authority being notified and this matter being referred to solicitors for breach of your lease with further legal action being taken if the breach is not rectified”.
That indicates that for many blocks of flats, the powers are already there to stop flats being let on this basis.
I am disappointed that the Minister has been so dismissive of the suggestion from the noble Baroness. This is happening not only in urban areas; in many rural areas such as national parks, including the Lake District National Park, and in certain villages, over 50%— sometimes over 70%—of local houses are now available only on holiday lets. We need to change this if we are going to keep a viable, living rural community.
I respect what the noble Lord has said, and I hope that I was not complacent. Outside London, of course, the recent changes to which my noble friend referred do not apply; outside London, it has always been possible to let on a short-term basis for as long as you want without any control. It is in London that the 90-day limit applies.
I accept what the noble Lord says. We want to try to enable homeowners who are not using their properties—or, indeed, rooms in their properties—for a certain length of time to let them on a short-term basis to those who want to move in. It helps the homeowner to increase their income and increases the range of accommodation available for tourists to this country. But I take on board the noble Lord’s point and would like to reflect on it.
Regarding Cornwall, will the Minister support the residents of St Ives who decided in a referendum, upheld by the High Court, that new homes would be solely for a person’s main residence? Will he encourage other councils, such as those in the Lake District, to take similar action to ensure that local people can find and afford a new home?
Again, that is a similar point to the one just made by the noble Lord. The Neighbourhood Planning Bill is on its way to your Lordships’ House, and there will be an opportunity to consider amendments and discuss issues such as the ones that have been raised. I do understand the genuine concerns raised on all sides.
My Lords, is not the essence of the problem in London that local authorities are not using their powers? I understand that 61% of all the homes and apartments on Airbnb were listed as being available for more than 90 days. How can that be when 90 days is the limit? Clearly, local authorities are disregarding the breach of that rule.
Of course, that particular abuse—if I can use that term—will be stopped next spring, when Airbnb apply the restriction to which I referred. It is also worth reminding my noble friend, and indeed my noble friend Lady Gardner, that it is possible for a local authority to remove the 90-day rule and apply for an exemption, either for particular properties or for residential properties situated in a specific area, if there is a “loss of amenity”. If that is the case, the ability to short-let for up to 90 days does not apply.
My Lords, back in July the Minister kindly wrote to me to reassure me that the promised £60 million fund to enable rural and coastal communities to provide accommodation for local people was still on course, despite it having been delayed following the events in June. It is nearly 2017 and I do not think we have heard any more about that fund. Can the Minister assure your Lordships’ House that the scheme is still on course? When will the money be made available for those communities suffering most from second-home ownership?
First, I declare an interest as a councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I welcome the announcement from Airbnb that it will ban people renting out properties on its site for more than 90 days from next year. Notwithstanding the answer the Minister gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, can he confirm that if anything comes to light whereby this company—or any other company or organisation involved in this process—is not fulfilling its obligation to ensure that landlords live up to theirs, and that they are offering proper assured shorthold tenancies for more than 90 days, the Government will work with the Mayor of London, London Councils, the Residential Landlords Association and others to see what can be done to strengthen the law and ensure that tenants get the protections they deserve?
The Mayor of London has written on this specific subject, saying:
“I support the right of Londoners to be able to benefit from renting out their homes for short periods, to meet new people, earn a little extra money, and add to the residential offer for visitors. I want to encourage as many people as possible from around the world to visit London, and I welcome the fact that Airbnb and similar sites help make it cheaper and easier for people to do so”.
So that is where the Mayor is coming from. I take on board the point that the noble Lord has just made about enforcement. You are in breach of the law if you let for more than 90 days in a calendar year, and local authorities have the relevant enforcement powers to deal with any breach.