A new team of investigative council officers are hitting the streets of the capital this week, to tackle irresponsible or unlawful nightly letting.
These officers will build evidence so that the council can prosecute landlords who are breaking the government’s clear 90-night limit on short-term letting.
Traditionally the council has found it difficult to gather sufficient evidence to prosecute, but this is expected to change with the launch of the Housing Standards Task Force as part of the My Westminster programme.
What is the problem
The council is concerned about ‘nightly letting’, i.e. people who break the rules to let their property all year round on a commercial basis, frequently for one-to-two nights at a time.
This results in people with little or no vested interest in their neighbours, and a high level of anti-social behaviour and complaints to the council around these properties.
There is no concern about those who let their home for several months at a time within the government’s 90 night limit, making some extra money via popular short-term letting websites.
How can residents help
Residents can flag nuisance neighbours through the council’s Report It app, letting the council know if they believe landlords are breaking the government’s 90-night limit on short-term letting.
How will the council prosecute offenders
Where evidence is obtained that a property has exceeded the 90 night limit without planning permission, the council will issue an enforcement notice requiring the recipients to observe the limit going forward.
It constitutes a criminal offence to breach the requirements of an enforcement notice and the City Council will not hesitate to prosecute those people found to be committing an offence.
Conviction in the Magistrates’ or Crown Court can lead to an unlimited fine and an enforcement notice once served, constitutes a charge on the Local Land Charges Register and can make the future sale or financing of the property more difficult.
No stone will be left unturned and the council will be querying with the relevant parties whether “commercial” short-letting (i.e. for more than 90 nights) invalidates the mortgage of the property and/or invalidates the home insurance for not only the property but the entire block.
AirBnB lettings in Westminster increased from 1,603 in 2015 up to 3,621 in 2017, an increase of 126%.
As of September 2017 almost 1,500 properties are being investigated for potential unauthorised use for short-lets.
What the team will look like
The team will be four strong, but will receive support from the noise team and environment health colleagues focused on rogue landlords. The council is investing £420,000.
Cllr Nickie Aiken, leader of Westminster City Council, said: “I know there are many who legitimately and responsibly let out their homes for under 90-nights a year to make some extra money.
“However, some selfish people treat this as an entirely commercial enterprise, letting their property out for one or two nights at a time all year round, with little or no thought to the wider community.”
“It is quite simple. Ninety days must mean just that. Companies must take responsibility for some of the unintended consequences of their business model, which is causing misery in pockets of ours and other cities across the world.”
Long term – the government should tax nightly lets
Cllr Aiken added: “I am calling on the government to introduce a new tax on nightly letting as local tax payers unfairly bear the burden of our related council services and activities.
“I think it is unacceptable that a company that reportedly pays only two hundred thousand pounds a year in tax can cost a single local authority more than that in enforcement alone.”
The council is also writing to all of the Great Estates, who own vast swathes of the city, to sign up to a Considerate Landlords’ Charter where they will agree to drive irresponsible nightly letters out of their properties for good.
Wider responsibilities of Housing Standards Task Force
The team will also work to tackle rogue landlords, including conducting a borough wide survey of conditions in the private rental sector across Westminster.
This will highlight hotspots for the council to take action, and will give an opportunity for more education and promotion of good practice, alongside enforcement.
There is a particular focus on illegal houses in multiple occupancy, which can represent a serious risk to tenants.