More than four million people have stayed in an Airbnb in London since the service launched in 2008. It took six years for the room-rental start-up to reach one million guest arrivals, but just two years to quadruple that number.
With many major cities now either completely banning or compulsorily registering short holiday-let properties, some elected officials think that a constructive change in regulation is required if long term residents’ rights and quality of life are to be protected. To that end, the Council of RBKC, in an effort to employ best practice and navigate a practical path forward, are hosting the Short Term Letting Conference, on the September 13 of this year. The event will see councillors, MPs, property management companies, sector specialists, influencers, the GLA, and Airbnb join forces to explore and investigate a practical regulatory framework that works, both now and for decades to come.
“There are an estimated 4,000 short lets in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and, incredibly, over 10% of all homes in the Ward of Earl’s Court are currently available to lease via websites like Airbnb,” says Councillor Malcolm Spalding, local resident, vocal opponent of the commercialisation of short lets and forthcoming conference speaker.
“With so many transient residents in our area, it is not surprising that short term lets are popular, but at what price? Property owners who leave their homes unsupervised do run the risk of creating problems for their neighbours. All too often, residents report issues surrounding rubbish dumping and anti-social behaviour associated with visitors to residential homes in blocks of flats that are let out to holidaymakers for a couple of nights.”
Residents and homeowners may, of course, let out rooms in their own house for up to a total of 90 days in any one-year period, but beyond that, particularly with whole properties let on a permanent commercial basis, all is not as clear cut as it seems.
“Other than neighbour relationship and taxation issues, there are also a host of legal complications that can catch an Airbnb host unawares,” says Spalding. “These mostly relate to invalidation of your insurance policies, your mortgage terms and being in breach of your landlord’s covenants and lease. You could even loose your right to lease your home. Added to that, breaches of planning policy, loss of residential use, loss of Council Tax and loss of Business Rates and you can see why the Council want to work fast to engage stakeholders, influencers and new and existing hosts to find a way to protect the participants in, and those effected by, what has become a largely unregulated sector.
“By letting properties out on short- rather than longer-term contracts, we are also creating an accommodation deficit in our area,” Spalding continued. “People that genuinely want to live in and contribute to this community are being priced out of the market as longer term leases can’t achieve a similar room night rate. This is something that the Borough is taking very seriously, and we look forward to positive steps forward in the coming months.”
With hotel rates skyrocketing during the summer months, international travellers for business and leisure gravitate towards Earl’s Court in search of well-priced accommodation and excellent transport routes across this great city. A historical accommodation hub, there are already 4,500 hotel beds in Earl’s Court, together with another 1,000 short-term holiday-let beds, so accommodation is plentiful and visitors do financially benefit the area. However, not all of these visitors are a welcome addition to the neighbourhood we live in. That said, some would argue that with responsible management, short term lets can offer home owners a host of wonderful financial advantages. Capitalising on this desire for short term let-management in Earl’s Court, City Relay has opened its first check-in desk in Kenway Road. A busy office where travellers from around the world converge to check-in and be transferred to their home-away-from-home, business is growing at an impressive pace.
“Modern technology, in the form of Airbnb and Bookings.com, has transformed the way that people think about financing their lives,” says Mathilde Le Bault, Co-Founder and CMO of City Relay. “We are one of the most successful short term management companies in the London area, and we have done much to earn this. Caring for, and financially optimising, property is at the core of what we do. Our clients work with us because we take the time to assess each and every visitor. We also physically meet each visitor, unlike other agencies offering similar services in London. “Our service is personal and we take our responsibilities very seriously. Home owners can hand us the keys to their home, and, for a percentage of earnings, we manage absolutely everything. From cleaning to linen services, City Relay take care of everything – A to Z.”
Contrary to some opinion, City Relay does feel that control and management of short lets is possible, and that an upside can be experienced by all. “Sixty percent of the properties we carefully manage are owned,” Le Bault continues. “We vet every tenant and offer on the ground, face-to-face review and supervision, so the incidents and issues we face are negligible. The main thing is that we care about the properties we manage and this oversight gives property owners the confidence to let with us for up to 90 days per annum – a period that can deliver life changing financial returns, rental area depending.
“We also support clients that lease properties, but that may need to travel for defined periods, their wish being not to lose their home and retain enough income to cover rent while they are away. “In our experience, it is best that our lease clients do consult with their landlords to make their intentions clear. Because City Relay has a proven reputation in the market, many landlords are happy to work with us to support a tenant that they have a long term relationship with.” Councillor Spalding added,
“To be clear, many of us feel that Airbnb and other short let websites can offer a great benefit as a responsible hosting vehicle, a way for national and international guests to experience Earl’s Court and the beautiful neighbourhoods that surround it. “It is the totally unsupervised properties, however, that we discourage, as many landlords are abusing the system and adversely affecting our community. The most common registered complaints by residents to official bodies in the past months include noise and nuisance like all-night rave parties; pop-up brothels, drug-taking, smoking and creating communal fire risks, disturbance due to constant churn of guests and all-hours comings and goings; damage to common parts by suitcases; illegal waste dumping every couple of days such as with take-away food debris, and general breaches of security. Reports are rising as short term properties increase in numbers, unfortunately. Liaising with the local police force on all of the aforementioned issues, it is clear that members of our community want to know that something is being done to safeguard their security and quality of residential life. I am confident that the conference in September will do much to share their concerns, and find a workable voluntary registration system.”The Short Term Letting Conference takes place at Committee Room 1 at RBKC Town Hall at 18.30 on Wednesday 13th of September. Members of the public are welcome to attend. Contact details Cllr. Spalding@rbkc.gov.uk
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