Airbnb lets may be unsafe, MPs warn

Boom in unregulated short-term rentals is fuelled in part by unscrupulous businesses posing as private owners

Growing numbers of professional holiday letting firms are hiding from regulation by using Airbnb and other sites, putting holidaymakers at risk, MPs will warn this week.

While hotels and b&bs are subject to fire safety regulations and other checks, homeowners do not have to prove their properties are safe before letting them out via holiday rental sites such as Airbnb.

A report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Tourism, Leisure and the Hospitality Industry, to be published this week, will reveal evidence that a large number of businesses are using these holiday rental platforms, which do not enforce checks.

Last week a study by the accountacy firm Moore Stephens revealed that there are 64,000 properties listed on Airbnb in London, compared with 197,970 hotel rooms, with similar proportions in Brighton and Bristol.

Yet local authorities and fire brigades are unaware of the location of many of these properties, according to Gordon Marsden, chairman of the parliamentary group.

“There is an image that this is a lot of happy, jolly people with a spare room trying to make some pin money,” the Blackpool MP said. “That’s true, but it’s also true that there seems to be systematic attempts to do block-booking in blocks of flats. That’s problematic.”

Marsden said MPs had received evidence that a large number of hosts had multiple listings on Airbnb and other platforms. “They have their hands on a number of different properties and many of those are often in large tower blocks,” he said. “That suggests that sharing-economy platforms are increasingly being used to develop tourism accommodation businesses rather than simply renting a room on an ad hoc basis.

“Sadly, issues like the Grenfell inquiry have shone a strong light on what the potential perils in large blocks might be, in terms of safety and security, and particularly not knowing who’s in there.”

Last year, Britons took 59.1m holidays in the UK, a 6% rise fuelled partly by the growth in easily available accommodation. The seaside is the most popular destination – 35% of trips – with cities seeing 30%.

“Outside London, before 2000, this wasn’t a big issue but now we’ve got cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Edinburgh that are attracting substantial numbers of domestic and international visitors who want to take advantage of the sharing platform,” Marsden said. “In many of those places, other than top-ranking hotels, they are probably filling an unmet need.”

While Airbnb is popular with its guests, it has come under fire from several directions. Some have complained that cities are losing tens of thousands of homes for residents, putting extra pressure on the housing market.

Other countries are taking increasingly more aggressive approaches. In Spain, the authorities in Palma de Mallorca voted in April to ban most short-term lets of private homes.

The British government has not looked seriously at the issue, leaving local authorities to negotiate with holiday rental sites. “There has not been a substantive, independent or government-commissioned response to this, just a series of ad hoc comments,” said Marsden. “We’re right to look at the economic possibilities but that’s not a substitute in terms of legislation or government’s responsibility to take a dispassionate look at the pros and cons.”


James Tapper

The GuardianTramp

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