Last month, London Councils, a cross-party group representing all 32 London Boroughs and the City of London Corporation, reported they had found 1 in 50 London homes to be listed on online short-term letting platforms such as Airbnb in December 2019, which equated to 73,549 homes.
Some European cities have implemented mandatory registration schemes for short-term lets and impose heavy fines for rule breaches, and have invested significant resources into monitoring the market and enforcing standards. Last month, the Scottish Government announced its intention to implement a licensing scheme for short-term lets from spring 2021 and in recent months there has been calls for England to increase short-term rentals regulation to protect the housing market.
The London Boroughs have reported short-term lets are being increasingly associated with spikes in crime and anti-social behaviour. There are growing numbers of complaints from local residents about these properties being used as ‘party houses’ and bases for prostitution and drug dealing.
This article discusses how (once you have established that a tenant is short-term subletting) you can identify the category of impact, assess the risk caused by it and what action can then be taken. My article last month explained this three step process in more detail, so you may wish to refresh your memory before reading on.
Identifying the category of community impact
Below are three examples of impact for each category (there are of course many more):
Nuisance (captures incidents where an act, condition, thing or person causes trouble, annoyance, irritation, inconvenience, offence or suffering to the local community):
• Occupants entering and exiting in the late hours leading to increased noise nuisance
• Security of the property (so safety of the residents) affected due to keys and fobs being with persons unknown.
• Occupants using the apartment for illegal and immoral purposes which may lead to residents being placed at risk of harm, with an increased risk to vulnerable persons such as those with mental or physical health conditions, or minors and the elderly.
Personal (captures incidents that are perceived as either deliberately targeted at an individual or group, or having an impact on an individual or group rather than the community at large):
• Due to a lack of relationship with the other residents, the occupants’ behaviour may be more aggressive towards and more dismissive of residents or staff who raise any behavioural related issues directly with the occupants.
• Occupants visiting from overseas who do not understand or support the communities expected level of moral behaviour, may mistreat certain groups of people within the community.
• Occupants with a ‘holiday’ mentality are more likely to demonstrate public drunken behaviours, which may result in inappropriate or violent incidents acts towards residents or staff
Environmental (captures incidents where individuals or groups have an impact on their surroundings, including natural, built and social environments):
• Failing to respect the environment in the communal areas in general
• Mistreating property and causing damage which management are unable to attribute to a specific apartment due to the occupants being unknown to the residents and staff
• Breach of basic fire safety rules relating to smoking in non-designated places on the property
Assess and decide the level of risk to the community
If you attended the ‘Safer and Stronger Communities – the role you play’ session at the UKAA Expo a couple of weeks ago, you will already be familiar with the traffic light method to assess risk which I discussed. For those who did not attend, the slides can be found here. This method uses a three tier structure: serious (red), moderate (amber) and minor (green) risk.
When establishing the risk for this subject, the key factors to consider are: if the tenant uses the apartment as their primary residence, how regularly the apartment is sublet and if it is let as a whole apartment or just a room whilst the tenant is still in occupation.
It can be difficult to assign risk for this type of breach of tenancy as there are many variables to consider. Below is one example for each level of risk:
Serious Risk (the safety/harmony of the community is at serious risk)
• Tenant not using the apartment as their primary residence, but instead using it as a permanent ‘short-term let business’ maintaining a permanent online listing
Moderate Risk (the safety/harmony of the community was at serious risk or is at moderate risk)
• During one-off major events the tenant regularly lists the apartment online to earn a little extra money and on these occasions either temporarily vacates the property or shares it
Minor Risk (the safety/harmony of the community is or was at minor risk)
• The apartment is listed on an online portal, but to date there has been no indication subletting has yet occurred
Establish the appropriate response and take action
Build to rent scheme management should already have a procedure in place whereby they carry out a weekly check for listings on Airbnb, Homeaway Network, Booking.com and Tripadvisor’s FlipKey portal (and any other similar portals). Due to the location being provided in the listing along with photos and contact details it should be simple to identify the scheme and the specific apartment.
If an apartment is identified, the starting point will almost always be sending a cease and desist letter to the tenant named on the tenancy agreement. The letter should inform the tenant their apartment has been identified during a spot check, state how this activity breaches their tenancy, notify the tenant they are to immediately cease all current listing(s) and desist from any further activity relating to this breach, and (if appropriate) make an appointment with the scheme manager to discuss the matter further.
The response from the tenant will dictate the next steps.
If the tenant fails to respond to the letter and/or the breach continues, the next likely course of action will be service of a notice (breach notice under section 8 or section 21 notice), followed by possession proceedings via the Courts, if the breach continues.
Any breach of tenancy based court proceedings will require evidence to support the claim – in this instance that may be: witness statements from scheme staff, copies of the online listings, chronology of complaints received regarding how the breach has impacted the community and evidence of communications with the tenant to demonstrate attempts to resolve this without court action.
The implementation of a simple operational policy stating which platforms should be checked, how to check them, how to evidence any located listings, and the action points to follow after identification, will prevent or at the very least reduce any impact upon the community, and additionally any financial and reputational damage to the scheme.
The UKAA is committed to working with operators to better understand community impact and support best practices. We would appreciate our operator members joining in with our Twitter Poll below.
It has been suspected for a while that an apartment is being occasionally used as short-term let. Your suspicions are due to the tenant regularly meeting new people in reception, taking them to the apartment, and then leaving alone shortly afterwards and not returning until the following day, at the same time their visitors are leaving.
You have tried to speak to one of the ‘visitors’ as they left, but they did not understand as their English was poor.
There have been no complaints from any residents and the apartment is always pristine when inspections are carried out. The tenancy agreement is still in its fixed term for another 2 years and there is no break clause available.
There is no definitive evidence of subletting, so in this situation starting with a cease and desist letter would not yet be appropriate. What action do you feel would be the most appropriate to start with?
A. First actively seek to obtain more evidence such as knocking on the apartment door each time you suspect a sublet and ask the occupants to confirm who they are.
B. Send a letter to the tenant highlighting your security concerns about regular persons in their apartment when they are not present, outline that if this is due to subletting, then this is not permitted and ask them to make an appointment to discuss this issue further.
C. Call the tenant and ask for a face to face meeting. During that meeting raise your security concerns and express your suspicion that they are sub-letting.
D. Do nothing, as there are no online listings you can find, there are no complaints from residents or other related issues logged and the tenant’s privacy should be respected in their own home.
Please click below to vote via Twitter, all votes are anonymous and the data is only used to help us to better understand your preferred ways of operating when considering how to help produce best practice guidance.
Join in with our Airbnb sublet case study.
Read the article and case study here: https://t.co/UMCnd5qYyM
Select your answer below A, B, C or D.
— UK Apartment Assoc (@TheUKAA) February 26, 2020