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Housing: Short-Term Lets

Volume 792: debated on Thursday 19 July 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that people offering their properties for short-term or holiday lets have a legal right to do so under their freehold or leasehold agreements or any other legal restrictions on the use of their properties.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I should mention my interests as set out in the register.

My Lords, individual leases and tenancy agreements are matters for landlords and tenants. Where permission under the contract is required to sublet but is not obtained, landlords have legal routes to enforce the contract. Yesterday I met again representatives of the Short Term Accommodation Association and strongly encouraged them to continue their progress on driving up standards and promoting industry best practice. I continue to encourage my noble friend to meet the STAA, and I am pleased to hear that it has been in contact with her to discuss her concerns.

I am sure the whole House will want to join me in wishing my noble friend a happy birthday earlier this week, and hope she will enjoy many more.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. Recently he told the House about a scheme introduced by Westminster City Council which is going quite well. Can he give us an update on that situation and tell us whether any borough can now apply for the right to introduce a similar scheme? If not, when will they be able to do so?

My Lords, my noble friend is correct to say that considerable progress has been made between the Short Term Accommodation Association and Westminster City Council on sharing information. There is a legal issue involving the Data Protection Act, which lawyers are working through, but, as I say, progress has been made. The Short Term Accommodation Association has also issued to residents in Westminster a “considerate nightly letting charter” to describe best practice, a document many noble Lords may have seen. The Short Term Accommodation Association wants to talk to other London boroughs. I think it has been in touch with the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which I know is my noble friend’s borough, and yesterday its representatives were due to meet with the London Borough of Tower Hamlets as well to discuss these issues.

My Lords, on holiday lets, does the Minister accept that under the system being used by most local authorities there is the potential for extensive fraud, with the bill being picked up by the ordinary taxpayer? Will the Government look into this and take action to stop the process currently being used?

My Lords, I am due to meet the noble Lord to discuss some of his concerns and I look forward to that. I am not sure, but I think he is probably referring to tax treatment. We are certainly looking at tax issues in this area and related to second homes more widely. My honourable friend Rishi Sunak, the Minister in the other place, is currently looking at this. Again, I look forward to discussing some of the noble Lord’s individual concerns.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House when the Rough Sleeping and Homelessness Reduction Taskforce last met? Further, will he ask it to consider the impact of Airbnb on homelessness, given that it has been estimated by Inside Airbnb that in London alone, nearly a quarter of secure tenancies that could be available are now affected by Airbnb?

My Lords, I will have to write to the noble Baroness on the precise date of the last meeting of the Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel. I know that it is active in looking at these issues, but I will give the noble Baroness an update on the position and place a copy of that letter in the Library.

My Lords, does not this problem require a rather different approach? Should the planning system not be given the powers and necessary funding to ensure that the abuses which have so often been raised by the indefatigable noble Baroness and others in this Chamber can be dealt with?

My Lords, on planning, the position at the moment throughout the country, except in London, is that it is open to householders to provide short-term accommodation in their homes, so there is no particular planning issue on that point. As regards London, as I have said previously, there is an enforcement power that lies with London boroughs which has been used, probably on many occasions, to prevent issues coming to court. As the noble Lord will appreciate, there is also in leases in appropriate cases, as exemplified by cases such as Nemcova, the opportunity for landlords to enforce the provisions. If there is a wider issue in this regard, I would be very happy to engage with the noble Lord, but I am not convinced that there is.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that under the European Commission, Airbnb is in contradiction of consumer rights? Is he prepared to tell us what the Government’s stand on that is?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for what he does in this area and more widely on homelessness and housing issues. I am not quite sure what he is getting at when he says that the European Commission has drawn attention to Airbnb being in breach of a particular provision. If it is, I am sure it will face the full rigour of European law in so far as it would apply. I am convinced that Airbnb is acting totally within our laws, as are other short-term accommodation providers. We are trying to ensure that they can share information; as I say, that is an issue relating to the Data Protection Act. If they are unable to do that and if the lawyers cannot crack the problem, we would have to look at the necessity of amending the law. From what I hear, I believe we will not need to do that.

My Lords, the remit of the Law Commission is to ensure that the law is fair. It has just done some excellent work on leasehold reform. Is there not a remit for it here? Could it not intervene in some way to examine the extent to which planning law is working?

My Lords, I absolutely agree that the Law Commission does excellent work, as the noble Lord informed us. Being independent, it comes up with its own programme and the Government react accordingly. If the Law Commission feels that there is a job to be done here, we will await its work in this area.