Westminster steps up enforcement drive on short-term lets

A central London council has said it has issued ten enforcement notices and 75 planning contravention notices against suspected unauthorised short-term lets since setting up a task force to tackle the issue six months ago.

Flats: council says short term lets are causing problems in communities
Flats: council says short term lets are causing problems in communities

Westminster City Council said that more than 1,200 properties are currently under investigation over suspected breaches of the requirement to obtain planning permission for letting homes for more than 90 nights a year.

Under the Deregulation Act 2015, residential premises in London can be used as "temporary sleeping accommodation" for up to 90 nights in any calendar year without triggering a change of use. 

But the council is concerned that the rules are regularly being breached by letting of homes through short-term letting websites and illegal property management activity.

Since March, the council’s housing standards taskforce has been collecting evidence of properties suspected of breaching the 90-night limit. The authority said it has invested £200,000 in the taskforce, which includes planning enforcement, noise control and environmental health personnel.

Westminster Council said it estimates that the average occupancy rate of short-term letting accommodation in the city is 116 nights per year.

"As the council does not grant planning permission to let longer than 90 nights, this indicates that many landlords are finding ways to breach the law," said a spokesman.

Council leader Nickie Allen said: "We have no problem with people earning a little extra money by letting their home considerately within the limits, but those breaching the 90-night limit and letting 365 days a year are a blight on the lives of our residents."

Westminster said its investigations have found evidence of large-scale party use, music events, serious overcrowding and sex work occurring in properties let on a nightly basis.

In one instance, it reported, the taskforce found ten people renting a three-bed house while working for several nights at a local funfair. In another, it investigated allegations that two male escorts were making authorised use of a short-term let property in Marylebone for sex work.

According to data from volunteer-run tracker organisation Inside Airbnb, Westminster currently has around 4,700 Airbnb listings. Research conducted in October 2016 by planning consultancy Lichfields found that short-term lets in Westminster attract the highest prices in the country, at an average of £181 per night for entire homes.

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