New measures are to be introduced in the Deregulation Bill to end rules from the 1970s preventing London residents from renting out their own homes on a short-term basis to visitors. Currently Londoners who want to rent out their homes for less than three months technically still have to apply for planning permission from the council, something that doesn’t apply anywhere else in the UK.
Ministers now want to give Londoners the freedom to rent out their homes on a temporary basis without paying for a council permit, with measures put in place to prevent abuse of such reforms or the permanent loss of residential accommodation.
However residents in Westminster have been raising with me real concerns that short-term letting will lead to anti-social behaviour, noise, excessive refuse and worse in local communities, as well as removing accommodation from circulation for those seeking to rent long-term. The blocks of flats that they live in are their homes, not assets for making money. They suggest there are serious security and safety issues – never knowing who will be living beside you, who you will meet in the lift, who will open the door if need to ask them to turn their noise down, who has a key to the building.
They also suggest short let ‘guests’ don’t care about the security of the building for others and let people enter the building who don’t have keys. High turnover from short lets is potentially destabilising and threatening for a permanent residential community. Most blocks of flats do not have 24-hour porters or reception desks manned to ensure security. Many flats in Westminster are occupied by single people, who rely on a known, trusted and accountable population of neighbours.
Moreover, residents fear noise throughout the night as arriving guests struggle with luggage in the early hours or host loud parties (my parliamentary colleague Robert Syms MP is particularly worried about rowdy stag and hen parties in his Poole constituency). There have also been historical problems with prostitution in this part of London where subletting has taken place, bringing small brothels into residential blocks, and there is a fear that this could be exacerbated if legislation is changed.
Short lets also reduce the available housing stock for those who work and contribute to the wider community in Westminster. Westminster City Council is disallowing short lets and many leases forbid this too but these may be challenged or ignored if there is legislation to allow such arrangements and it will cause management and cost issues for the permanent residential community.
I have written to the Housing Minister about the particular difficulties the relaxation would cause in central London, where short-term lets can achieve a far higher rate of return than their longer term equivalents. Such a relaxation appears not to be too dissimilar from the government’s efforts to make it far easier to convert empty office premises into housing. Both Westminster and the City of London were granted an exemption from that particular relaxation and I’m keen to see whether we can get a similar exemption in this case.