A council tenant who illegally sub-let his council flat through Airbnb in Victoria, London has been evicted and issued a record £100,000 fine, following legal action taken by Westminster City Council.

Amid calls for a national registration scheme to stop rogue landlords using letting sites, Toby Harman, 37, was prosecuted after it was found that his property had been advertised on Airbnb since 2013, amassing more than 300 online reviews.

Tackling short-term lettings

Alan Boswell – MPU

Airbnb and other short-term rental companies are often blamed for pricing out long-term renters and side-stepping government regulations and taxes imposed on hotels and registered apartments.

The crackdown on properties like Mr Harman’s, advertised as a “cosy studio apartment” for rent in Victoria, Central London, illustrates the ongoing efforts of specialist teams like the housing standards task force in Westminster City Council, specially designed to tackle abuses of short-term lettings.

Currently, more than 1,500 properties in Westminster alone are under investigation. The council is also urging the Government to introduce a cross-platform registration scheme for property owners, so councils can better regulate the market.

Tough consequences

Following a failed appeal, the tenant was taken to court, evicted and ordered to pay back £100,974 in unlawful profits by the judge. This is one of the highest ever fines awarded to the council, who were also awarded a possession order for the property.

Last year, Westminster successfully recovered 24 social housing properties from fraudsters but has typically found it difficult to gather evidence to prove that landlords are breaking the government’s 90-night limit on short-term letting.

Protecting social housing

Andrew Smith, Westminster City Council Cabinet Member for Housing Services, commented: “Social housing is there to provide much-needed homes for our residents, not to generate illicit profits for dishonest tenants.

“It’s illegal for council tenants to sublet their homes and we carry out tenancy checks, as well as monitor short term letting websites for any potential illegal sublets.

“Along with a six-figure unlawful profit order, by getting a possession order, we can now reallocate the property to someone in genuine need of a home.

“We’re also pressing the Government to introduce a national registration scheme to make it far easier for us to take action against anyone who breaks the rules on short term letting,” said Mr Smith.

Support from online platforms

In relation to this particular incident, a spokesperson at Airbnb commented: “This property was removed from Airbnb earlier this year. We regularly remind hosts to check and follow local rules – including on subsidised housing – and we take action on issues brought to our attention.

“Airbnb is the only platform that works with London to limit how often hosts can share their space, and we support proposals from the Mayor of London for a registration system to help local authorities regulate short term lets and ensure rules are applied equally to hosts on all platforms in the capital.”

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Jim Kersey
Jim focuses on the socio-economic impact of housing. His reporting for Property Notify often touches on topics such as changes in sentiment among investors in various housing sectors, as well as the impact of various developments on the average person.

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