Westminster City Council calls for online lets law change following discovery of 'virtual hotel'

A London Tory council has called on the government to introduce tougher legislation to help it stop illegal online lettings, after an investigation by the local authority discovered a ten-flat residential building operating as a "virtual hotel".

Westminster calling for stronger laws on short-term lets. Image by City of Westminster Council
Westminster calling for stronger laws on short-term lets. Image by City of Westminster Council

The law currently requires property owners offering short term lets to seek planning permission if they do so for more than 90 nights a year, but Westminster City Council says that it can be hard to identify such properties. 

The council is demanding primary legislation to create a register that would include a mandatory data sharing arrangement between local authorities and the online letting platforms.

Nickie Aiken, leader of Westminster City Council, said: "It is not right that companies are making profit on the backs of our residents' rights to a peaceful life without any regard to regulation or the local area they are affecting."

She said that the ten-flat property in Pimlico which was subject to the council’s recent investigation had blighted the lives of local residents.

The council said that neighbours have complained about the high volume of people arriving "at all hours of the night", noise disturbance, and the delivery of laundry and cleaning services. The local authority said that it is considering enforcement action. 

Apartments within the building, called Vauxhall Bridge Apartments, were still being offered this morning on a number of websites, for more than £300 a night.

Earlier this month, the Chartered Institute of Housing called for stronger planning powers to help councils regulate the rise in short-term rentals.

It warned that without regulation, the trend could risk "loss of neighbourhood amenity, misappropriation of housing stock, and displacement of long-term residents".

A Planning feature looking at how London boroughs are tackling the pressures on local amenity and housing supply from the capital's boom in short-term lets can be read here. 

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