By Linus Rees and Peter Whyatt
Planning officers in Camden and Westminster will crackdown on illegal short-term letting of residential property in Fitzrovia between now and the London 2012 Olympics. The demand for cheap, short-stay accommodation in London is anticipated to rise due to an expected increase in tourism as London is promoted on the international stage as a city to visit. The initiative follows similar moves by Paris and New York City officials in their attempt to stamp out the unlawful short-letting trade.
The introduction of many inexpensive and tourist-friendly environmental measures like the Mayor’s bicycle hire scheme and the promotion of walking and sightseeing through the Legible London way-finding initiative has made London a more attractive place to visit. Young budget travellers are increasingly attracted to London as the city becomes more cyclist and pedestrian-friendly, but these same young travellers are often put off by London’s notoriously expensive hotel accommodation.
The availability of cheap online-booking software has allowed landlords to set themselves up as hoteliers and link in to the many networks of hotel-booking which proliferate on the internet.
London borough officials are now concerned that the creation of illegal short letting across central London is getting out of hand and another crackdown is due. Westminster City Council has run for several years a high-profile campaign to take enforcement action against illegal short letting. The City council has warned owners saying “you’ll need planning permission to let your property for less than 90 days and without it you are breaking the law and you could be fined up to £20,000.”
Unlike Westminster, Camden Council has been seen as a soft-touch and has a reputation for being reluctant to bring enforcement against rogue landlords who continually break planning law by offering accommodation for less than 90 days without the required planning consent.
However, Camden Council now feel that the growth in these illegal apart-hotels has become a major problem and have indicated that they will act swiftly to not only close them down but also take landlords to court.
Bloomsbury ward councillor Adam Harrison told Fitzrovia News: “This is an issue I will be pressing council officers to take enforcement action against. Illegal short-letting not only disrupts local communities but it distorts the price of private-rented accommodation at a time when housing benefit is about to be capped.”
Many landlords are blatantly advertising on the internet short-stay accommodation at residential property in Charlotte Street, Tottenham Street, Great Titchfield Street, Newman Street and other streets in Fitzrovia. Some landlords are even offering former council flats as “apart hotels” for single night accommodation.
Community organisations in Fitzrovia have welcomed the news that enforcement action will be taken but have said that this sort of illegal letting has gone on for decades. Residents have long complained about lack of action being taken when landlords run unlawful hotel accommodation in residential buildings. Residents have long complained about disturbance from neighbouring flats being used as hotels. Residents say that only now that it is getting out-of-hand that anything is being done.
In 2007 a report by Westmister City Council concluded that “The quality of life of permanent residents is affected by the frequently changing occupiers in short term letting dwellings, who often enter and leave the properties at unsociable hours, causing considerable disruption and leading to residents experiencing an increased fear of crime.”
The report also warned that “the short term letting market in Westminster remains strong and highly lucrative for those involved. Many estate agents and other sources were seen to be actively promoting short term letting and the benefits for both landlords and tenants. Also, the fact that many estate agents have recently set up offices or teams to cater solely for short term letting shows that the market is buoyant and likely to grow. This in hand will increase pressure on the Council; its permanent housing stock and permanent residents.”
Westminster City Council web page to report illegal short-letting http://www.westminster.gov.uk/services/environment/planning/enforcement/
Camden Council web page to report breaches of planning regulations http://www.camden.gov.uk/ccm/content/environment/planning-and-built-environment/introduction-to-planning/Planning-enforcement-new.en?page=2
Short Term Letting in Westminster 1995-2006 published September 2007 http://www3.westminster.gov.uk/newcsu/Cabinet%20Member%20Decisions/Former%20Cabinet%20Member%20Portfolios/Planning/2008/02-Publication%20of%20Report%20on%20Short%20Term%20Letting/Short%20Term%20Lets%20FINAL%20Report%20Sept07.pdf
Short Term letting leaflet from Westminster City Council http://www3.westminster.gov.uk/docstores/publications_store/Short_Term_Letting_Guide_2008.pdf