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Short-term Lettings

Volume 796: debated on Tuesday 26 February 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to giving greater power to local authorities to deal with issues arising from short-term lettings.

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare my interests as in the register.

My Lords, where short-term lets breach the rules, local authorities already have numerous powers to take action. We are strongly encouraging industry to continue its progress on promoting best practice, and to support the efforts of local authorities to ensure that short-term lets comply with the rules. I am pleased to hear that the noble Baroness has now met with the Short Term Accommodation Association to discuss this important work.

I thank the Minister for that reply. It was his advice that I should meet the association, and I found it very productive. Airbnb was among the members that attended, which was quite interesting because there has been a conflict here before. When the Minister asked Airbnb, it said that it sorted all this information; when I asked it, it said that it did not. At the meeting, I asked which of the two was the right answer. The real answer was that it asks users to verify that they have all the necessary permissions for short-term lets. Airbnb is not asking them to produce them or to show that they have that right. It just presumes that they do if they say yes. In view of the fact that HMRC has no interest in this huge field, it is time that some more action is taken.

My Lords, the Short Term Accommodation Association is grappling with problems of sharing data under the current law, and it is trying to proceed with that. It also has a conference on 14 March, to which it has invited every single local authority in the UK, although this is a devolved issue. That is a sign of its determination to tackle this—as is the accreditation programme which it is setting forth.

Of course there is a case for clear regulation, but does the Minister agree that Airbnb and others, since they are popular, are meeting a gap in the market?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord on that. It is nevertheless important, as he acknowledged, that they satisfy certain conditions. Those that join the Short Term Accommodation Association sign up to a code of conduct. That has been circulated to all houses in Westminster, with which it has a particularly close association. It is the aim of the Short Term Accommodation Association to roll that out nationally.

Did the Minister see BBC London’s documentary last night, in which undercover work revealed that three private sector companies were helping private landlords find their way round the 90-day limit in London? Does he agree with Generation Rent that the data should now definitely be released to local authorities, because otherwise it is almost impossible for local authorities to enforce?

My Lords, I did not have the privilege of seeing that programme last night, as I had duties in the House, but I have had reports of it. Those businesses to which the noble Baroness was referring are not members of the Short Term Accommodation Association, although we would certainly encourage them to join it; the association is seeking to ensure that they do.

My Lords, the Minister knows that his department has established a working group, which I have the pleasure of chairing, to look at the regulation of property agents: those doing sales, lettings or management of property. The companies that do the short-term lettings do not have any regulation at present. Will the Minister comment on whether the new regulator of property agents—which I am sure will come to pass—should cover the short-term lets as well as the longer-term lettings that it definitely will be covering?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for all that he does, not only in relation to the regulation of property agents, but more generally in the area. The noble Lord has written to my honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Homelessness, and she will be replying. As I said, it is our intention that the Short Term Accommodation Association is the route forward, with the code of conduct that it is progressing, rather than that this coming under the ambit of the property agents group to which he referred.

My Lords, Airbnb lettings have increased by 187% in London since 2015, and 678% in Birmingham. Should not properties let on this basis be subject to business rates? I refer to my local government interests in the register.

My Lords, Airbnb is the market leader and is doing a good job within London, which is the only place where the 90-day limit applies. Its software ensures that you cannot go over the 90-day limit. As I understand it, to qualify as a business, you have to let for a minimum of 120 days, so that could not apply within London, but it could elsewhere, depending on the facts. I am not an expert in that area, but I do not think that it could apply in London because of that simple statistic.

My Lords, will Ministers send a guidance note out to local authorities to advise them to adopt the Newham scheme, which I have raised on a number of occasions in this House, for the way that landlords should be treated when they are in default?

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that I have previously referenced the guide that has been developed with Westminster, which the Short Term Accommodation Association wants to roll out. In fact, there are two guides: one is for landlords, which is currently being used in Westminster and it is intended should be used elsewhere; the other is for managers of blocks, and that would apply generally to residences in central London. There are therefore two codes of conduct that are central to what the accreditation body—or what we hope will become the accreditation body—is doing.