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Airbnb could share identities of hosts to prevent illegal renting

Plans for register follow complaints in UK of council homes used for holiday lets

Airbnb could share identities of hosts to prevent illegal renting
Airbnb has faced demands from UK authorities to be allowed access to host data. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

Airbnb hosts could have their identities shared for the first time to prevent illegal short-term rents and the use of scarce council housing as holiday accommodation.

The San Francisco-based property rental platform will this week begin drawing up plans for a register of hosts after pressure from politicians and community leaders across the UK who have complained they are powerless to act when whole blocks are sometimes overrun by short-term rentals.

Last week, the Brighton MP Caroline Lucas became the latest to back calls for a register saying it was completely unacceptable for residents to have to endure noisy parties in rented flats every weekend. As things stand, councils do not know who the hosts are.

Council leaders in Cornwall, Scotland and in the London tourist hubs of Camden, Kensington and Westminster are demanding access to host data with a warning that they cannot police the still-growing digital platform without it.

Earlier this year one council tenant in Westminster, Toby Harman, was ordered to repay more than £100,000 after it emerged he had flouted his tenancy agreement by renting out his Vauxhall Bridge Road flat hundreds of times dating back to 2013.

There were 223,200 UK listings on Airbnb in the year to July 2018 but few restrictions. In London, the law was changed in 2015 so that hosts cannot let out properties for more than 90 nights a year, but this has proved hard for councils to police.

Patrick Robinson, director of public policy at Airbnb, said the system would “give authorities the information they need to regulate home sharing effectively, and that ultimately makes communities stronger”.

The company announced last week that it will float on the stock market next year and said it will start a six-month consultation on Thursday including in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bristol, Bath, Manchester, Brighton and Cornwall.

Camden council said there are at least 7,000 properties in the borough used as short-term lets, many of which are being unlawfully used for more than 90 days a year.

“The result of the explosion in the number of short-term rentals is the loss of permanent housing, and increased rents, all at a time of significant housing need,” said Danny Beales, cabinet member for investing in communities. “They also often create amenity issues for residents, like creating noise disturbance and rubbish issues. We need the government to act and introduce a mandatory register of short-term lets. We also believe council’s should have the power to introduce an overnight visitor levy, to deal with the related costs.

Airbnb appears determined to show it is willing to self-regulate before local governments step in, as has happened elsewhere. In March, authorities in Madrid said apartments which do not have a separate main entrance will no longer be allowed to be used as short-term rentals, effectively removing thousands of properties from the market.

Authorities in Berlin last year announced fines of up to €500,000 for breaching rules for short-term lets including getting a licence from the local authority or leaving it permanently untenanted.

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