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TfL announces new guidelines to curb short-let rental ads

Labour’s London Assembly spokesperson for housing has welcomed new advertising guidelines published by Transport for London (TfL) banning adverts on its network that promote the flouting of planning laws.

Earlier this year, Property Investor Today reported on how the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had been urged to ban adverts on the Tube that encouraged the breaking of short-term lettings law.

This later led to Hostmaker, the short-let management company at the centre of the storm, apologising and removing their ‘misguided’ short-let rental ads from across the TfL network.

Now the man who sent the original letter to Khan in May, urging him to block adverts from Hostmaker which encouraged landlords to contravene the 90-day annual limit for short-term lettings in London, has backed TfL’s move.

Tom Copley AM said of the network’s new guidelines: “It is hugely positive to see TfL take action on the back of concerns that I previously raised along with Generation Rent towards these adverts. However, it should be stressed that this move marks just one of the ways that we can strengthen regulation in the ever-growing home sharing sector to defend our long-term rented housing stock.”

What do the new guidelines say?

TfL’s new advertising guidelines outline comprehensive criteria that advertising campaigns aimed at promoting short-term lettings schemes and firms on its network will now be judged against.

The guidelines state that problematic advertising content could include ‘references to holiday lets which do not appear to be limited in time, ambiguity about the type of letting, and suggestions of increased returns from non-standard lettings’.

Regulations introduced under the Deregulation Act 2015 made it illegal for landlords to rent out their homes in the capital for more than 90 nights a year as short-term lets, unless they secure specific planning permission from their local council to allow it.

However, an undercover investigation earlier this year by BBC News revealed that Hostmaker, as well as number of other short-term lettings management firms, were offering services to landlords to help them swerve the 90-day limit.    

Copley has been a long-time advocate of greater regulation in the short-term lettings sector. Back in January 2018, he published a report - More BnB: Short-term Lets in London's Housing Crisiswhich put forward a number of recommendations designed to strengthen regulation and enforcement measures in the home-sharing sector.

In April this year, Khan took the recommendations on board and urged the government to introduce a short-term letting registration system in the capital

“In recent months, we have seen adverts across the TfL network encouraging landlords to flout the law when it comes to short term lets,” Copley said.

“In the midst of our housing crisis and with rents rising, this has been sending the wrong message to beleaguered Londoners living in a largely unfair and unforgiving private rented sector in urgent need of reform.”

He added: “The 90-day limit law on short-term lets offers the only current means of protection against the rising tide of properties in the capital being turned into permanent holiday homes, though it is incredibly difficult for local authorities to enforce.”

The phenomenal growth of short-let rental websites, with Airbnb inspiring a number of imitators since it launched more than a decade ago, has been welcomed by holidaymakers, city breakers and businesspeople as a reliable, affordable alternative to hotels and B&Bs.

But they have not been free from criticism or opposition. In June, ten cities in Europe clubbed together to ask for more help from the EU in their battle against Airbnb and other short-let holiday rental websites. The cities – Amsterdam, Barcelona, ​​Berlin, Bordeaux, Brussels, Krakow, Munich, Paris, Valencia and Vienna – wrote a joint letter saying the ‘explosive growth’ of global short-stay lettings platforms must be on the agenda of the next set of European commissioners.

London, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin and Amsterdam are just some of the cities to have taken action against the growth of short-lets – to varying degrees – while Palma de Mallorca last year voted to ban almost all Airbnb-style rentals after a drastic increase in rental prices for locals.

The battle, as always, is how to tally the welfare of local residents and neighbourhoods with the demands from tourists.

The latest action by TfL suggests it is doing its bit to redress the balance somewhat, but with some 80,000 rooms or homes on Airbnb alone in London, the battle could be ongoing to ensure the benefits of short-lets aren’t outweighed by the downsides.

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