30 Jul 2019

An Airbnb host who rented out his central London council flat to tourists has been fined £100,000 and evicted.

Council tenant Toby Harman, 37, created the fake identity “Lara” on Airbnb to rent out his studio apartment.

The flat, in Victoria, had been advertised since 2013 and received more than 300 reviews, Westminster City Council said.

Anti-fraud software had found Harman’s first name in reviews and connected the listing to him.

Harman’s bank statements showed he had been receiving payments from Airbnb for a number of years.

He had been taken to court and, after a failed appeal, evicted and ordered to pay £100,974 in unlawful profits, the Times reported.

Airbnb told BBC News the council property listing had been removed from its website 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,” said a spokeswoman.

“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.”

Westminster Council said it was currently investigating at least 1,500 properties in the borough for short-term letting.

“Social housing is there to provide much-needed homes for our residents, not to generate illicit profits for dishonest tenants,” the council’s Andrew Smith said.

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

It said it would now be able to allocate the property to someone else.

“We’re also pressing 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,” he added.

London’s Airbnb market has quadrupled since 2015, from 20,000 to 80,000 listings.

One of the most popular areas for Airbnb listings in the country is Shoreditch, particularly the area around Brick Lane.

What about residential lets?

Arla Propertymark, the professional body representing UK lettings agents, told the BBC that people renting out their homes for days or weeks at a time is on the rise.

“We increasingly hear anecdotal evidence from our members in the big cities London, Birmingham and Manchester) about properties that have been let on tenancy agreements appearing on short-term letting sites…which is reducing the number of properties within the traditional rental market,” said Arla Propertymark’s chief executive David Cox.

One legal expert said that most private residential landlords would not allow their properties to be sub-let, almost all “well-drafted” Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreements include a provision that bans the act, which would cover listing rooms on Airbnb.

“Landlords in general are very cautious of having multiple people in properties because the implication of that is that the landlord has to have a Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licence,” she said.

There would also be concerns about whether the property was adequately insured, she added.

She said that her law firm had been involved in cases where tenants had been taken to court for breaking the rules.

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