Airing tonight at 7:30pm on BBC London, Freesat channel 950 and on Sky channel 954, a new episode of BBC Inside Out highlights the growing number of people making a business out of their tenancy via short-term rental platforms, without their landlords’ permission.
The show covers the story of a landlord who ended up £10,000 out of pocket after his tenants ‘professionally’ sublet his property in Bloomsbury on Airbnb.
The tenants had a 22-month AST arranged through Base Property Specialists ltd. During a periodic inspection, consented to by the tenants, the agent arrived early to witness the tenants checking a family into the property. On returning to the office, the agent reviewed Airbnb to find the property listed both as a single dwelling and as two separate bedroom rooms. Airbnb had more than 70 booking reviews for the property, with the first being the same month that the tenants’ tenancy commenced, showing they had been subletting it from the beginning.
Property Base contacted the tenants informing them that they were breaching a number of licensing laws and instructing them to remove all listings from Airbnb (and any other sites they may have used), cancel all bookings, remove the key safe they had installed and make good any damage that had been caused. The tenants were offered two courses of action: to re-occupy the property themselves or surrender under the contractual Early Termination Agreement, which at that point totalled £4295.00.
Despite the tenants requesting to stay and subsequently removing the key safe and repairing the damage, Base Property continued to receive reports from neighbours of people coming and going. When the agent arranged for a plumber to fix a maintenance issue, he was told by the occupants, a Russian family, that they did not speak English and were renting the property.
Kristjan Byfield of Base Property, comments on the case: “One thing I found extremely disappointing was Airbnb’s refusal to take any action whatsoever. When we contacted them and provided evidence that the “hosts” were not the legal owners of the property and were in breach of the landlord’s mortgage and buildings insurance terms, local licensing laws, and both short-term let and HMO licensing, their response was take it up with the tenants.”
By this point, the tenants were refusing to engage with the agent. They continued to host on Airbnb despite denying it, even using a professional laundry service to prepare the beds. They refused access to contractors who were due to fix a leak, causing further damage to the property. Kristjan Byfield called in the help of Paul Shamplina of Landlord Action who served the tenants with a Section 8 notice and thereafter, the Landlord Action solicitors issued possession proceedings.
Paul had this to say: “Kristjan and his team had done everything correctly. They had obtained thorough references, carried out regular property inspections and even given the tenants the opportunity to put the situation right when they were caught out. Unfortunately, unauthorised use for short lets is a growing problem, as Westminster Planning Enforcement team will discuss on the show, and councils are struggling to cope with the volume of cases. At Landlord Action, we always have a number of sub-letting cases at any one time, particularly from landlords whose tenants have sub-let via Airbnb without consent.”
Both Paul and Kristjan agree that there are lots of Airbnb hosts that do a fantastic job, do not cause disruption to neighbours and comply with all necessary licences.
However, the feel that Airbnb should be doing much more to prevent unauthorised hosts. “We have had a number of cases where the landlords agree for the tenants to sub-let, and with proper communication and agreements, it can work very well. However, 95% of issues such as this case could be eradicated if Airbnb invested in some simple technology to cross-reference the name of the host with the owners name, via the Land Registry, and then simply obtained proof of consent to sub-let if those name do not match” says Kristjan.
“Their unwillingness to take responsibility and make improvements is damaging to the private rented sector” adds Paul.