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Housing activists launch campaign calling for Airbnb regulation

The campaign will lobby government to give councils in England the power to refuse homes being converted into Airbnbs.

Campaigners want Airbnb properties to be regulated. Image: Jason Jeandron on Unsplash

Housing action groups have launched a new campaign calling for Airbnb regulation in England.

Action on Short Term Lets, coordinated by Action on Empty Homes and Greater Manchester Tenants Union, will campaign for councils in England to be given power to block homes being converted into short-term rentals, most commonly as Airbnb lets.

There’s currently no way for councils in England to regulate Airbnbs because short-term rental properties are in the same planning class as ordinary homes. This means councils cannot distinguish between a home and an Airbnb listing, preventing them from introducing measures that would stop homeowners listing their homes on Airbnb.

The campaign will push to get English councils powers to limit the number of new Airbnb listings. It wants to see planning reforms, a licensing system and a ‘right to refuse’ new listings.

“What is needed is change to legislation requiring owners to seek permission to convert houses to short-term lets, and powers to refuse these conversions according to local need,” the campaign states.

“Only then will the growing problem of housing loss be addressed.”

Airbnb has exploded onto the scene in UK cities, rural communities and seaside resorts over the last decade. Analysis by the Council for the Protection of Rural England found there had been a 1,000 per cent increase in short-term lets nationally between 2015 and 2021, removing 148,000 homes from the housing stock.

Many of these are whole houses rather than spare rooms. For instance, two thirds of Airbnb listings in Bristol as of June were entire houses.

“Airbnb has changed itself from a simple room-letting service to something of a whole-house phenomenon,” said Will McMahon, a campaigner at Action on Empty Homes and who is helping organise the ASTL campaign. “In most instances, it is not people letting out spare rooms.

“In what we think as the most desirable areas in the country – urban areas, countryside, seaside resorts – Airbnb is taking over a lot of whole house properties and sucking properties out of the housing market.”

The campaign’s first aim is to get as many people affected by Airbnb to fill out the government’s consultation on short-term lets which runs until September 21. The consultation seeks evidence on the impact of short-term lets on the economy and housing market, with a view to potentially setting up a registration or licensing scheme.

Campaigners have urged people to focus on question six which they say is effectively a poll on Airbnbs, asking respondents if they think the increase in short-term and holiday letting in England has had a bad effect on the housing market.

This summer the Big Issue revealed there are hundreds of short-term lets for every home to rent in seaside resorts.

Landlords can cash in if they convert their properties into Airbnb listings. A report from GMTU last year found that where a landlord could charge £750 per month for a two bedroom flat in Hulme, Manchester, they could make £936 per month if they had people staying in the house for just 18 days.

Isaac Rose, an organiser at GMTU, told the Big Issue the spread of Airbnb properties was pushing rents up.

“Unregulated short-term lets means landlords are switching properties out of the long term lettings market to chase higher profits in the short-term lets,” said Rose. “It’s reducing supply and having an upward pressure on rents.

“Many of our members are also concerned about the impact that Airbnbs in residential areas are having on their neighbourhoods – the noise, disruption and erosion of settled communities through increased transience. Taken together both these factors mean that an unregulated short-term let sector is acting as a cutting edge of gentrification and displacement.

“We call on the government to act now, give councils the power to refuse conversions of residential houses to short-term lets, and call on other tenants unions, residents groups and neighbourhood associations to back this campaign.”

As well as upping rents and reducing the country’s housing stock, many of those living near Airbnbs say they are bringing anti-social behaviour.

“The biggest problem is the uncertainty,” one resident in Manchester said. “These houses are mostly empty all week and then party zones at the weekend. More often than not they seemed to be filled with hen nights and stag parties. You never know whether they’re going to party until the early hours or be considerate and stop.

“They filled one house back in July and the guests’ mates were outside in a van with a lift-up roof and more were sleeping on the pavement. They were all up drinking and congregating on the pavements. This is while youngsters were sitting the GCSEs and A-levels. A door has been smashed in so you worry about violence. It’s not normal neighbourly behaviour.”

Other UK nations are already acting when it comes to Airbnb regulation. Landlords in Scotland will require Airbnbs licences from October. Meanwhile, the Welsh government will introduce planning reforms enabling local authorities to require planning permission to change a property from one use class to another and Airbnb owners will need to apply for a licence too.

GMTU and AOEH want to bring together the widest number of individuals and organisations who share their concerns about short-term lets, and urge both individuals affected and action groups to join them by emailing info@emptyhomes.com.

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