Sadiq Khan's office has been asked by a parliamentary committee to give its views on Airbnb's activities in London, following concerns the home-sharing site is being used by professional landlords and driving up London rents.
Last month a BuzzFeed News investigation revealed more than 1 in 3 flats and homes listed on the site were from hosts with multiple properties, a sign of professional landlords rather than home-sharers, and that Airbnb support staff had told a host "not to worry" about UK laws limiting home sharing without a specific license.
On Tuesday, Iain Wright, the chair of parliament's business, innovations and skills committee – which looked into the sharing economy in hearings earlier this year – wrote to the London mayor's office which a series of questions relating to Airbnb's operations in the UK capital.
"You will be aware that a number of investigations into temporary property letting
companies such as Airbnb have found that many landlords appear to be operating
illegally by letting properties out for more than 90 days per year," the letter begins. "Several of these report that the current law is unenforceable."
The letter, which was copied to Airbnb and the hotel lobby group the British Hospitality Association continued by noting "while companies such as Airbnb can enable homeowners to unlock economic value by temporarily letting spare rooms, extensive use of Airbnb by professional landlords, contrary to the current law, can help to drive up property prices, compounding issues of affordability in the capital".
Wright said his committee had also heard concerns companies such as Airbnb "enable landlords to circumvent tax, food, health and fire safety regulations thereby securing an unfair competitive advantage over other providers of accommodation".
Wright's letter concludes by asking the mayor's office for its views on Airbnb, as well as what action the new mayor, who was elected in May, has taken with councils on enforcement of London's existing laws.
"I would welcome your own assessment of the impact of companies such as Airbnb on London and your views on whether the existing law should be amended," Wright states. "I am also keen to understand what discussions you have had with representatives of London councils on enforcement of the 90-day rule."
A spokeswoman for Sadiq Khan's office said the mayor would be happy to work with lawmakers if councils felt changes were needed.
“Airbnb and similar accommodation sites encourage visitors to London as they help make it cheaper and easier for people to stay here. London is the third most popular Airbnb destination, demonstrating that London Is open to people from across the world," she said.
“However, the Mayor was concerned to see recent reports from the Residential Landlords Association about the number of homes now being advertised for short-term lets that otherwise would go to Londoners who rent privately.
“He supports the right of Londoners to be able to benefit from renting out their homes for short periods, but that needs to be balanced against the need to ensure that Londoners are not adversely affected.
“If boroughs are finding that the legislation needs to be revisited to make sure we get that balance right, then he would be happy to work with them on discussions with the Government about whether any changes may be needed.”
Wright said his letter to the mayor had been sent because London appeared to have a particular issue with professional Airbnb hosts.
“Landlords who use companies like Airbnb to illegally let properties for more than 90 days are driving up prices and leaving tenants vulnerable," he said. "These landlords are hoteliers in all but name and gain an unfair competitive advantage by dodging regulations and taxes which hotels are required to pay.
"London appears to have a particular problem with these issues and that is why I have asked the Mayor for his views on what needs to be done to protect the public and ensure a level playing field in the property and hospitality sectors."
Analysis by BuzzFeed News of data from the website Inside Airbnb, collected in June, showed that 7,600 of Airbnb’s 21,861 full-property listings – over a third – were offered by hosts with two or more listings.
Some hosts had far more than two properties listed on the site. A total of 142 Airbnb hosts had 10 or more full properties – a total of 3,706 listings – on the site at one time, while a small number had more than 100 simultaneous listings.
A spokesman for Airbnb said the company helped normal Londoners pay their rent, and that Airbnb regularly reminds hosts of London's rules on home sharing.
"The vast majority of Airbnb hosts are regular Londoners who share their homes to boost their income and afford living costs in one of the world's most expensive cities - they are not typically businesses or professionals," he said.
"London has clear and simple home sharing rules; we regularly remind hosts to follow them and we are working closely with London boroughs to promote responsible home sharing and help tackle bad actors."
James Ball is a special correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London. PGP: here
Contact James Ball at James.Ball@buzzfeed.com.
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