‘A hideous business’: the risks of Airbnb

PUBLISHED: 18:00 03 August 2017 | UPDATED: 11:17 04 August 2017

The Airbnb office. Picture: Open Grid Scheduler/Grid Engine / Flickr/Creative Commons

The Airbnb office. Picture: Open Grid Scheduler/Grid Engine / Flickr/Creative Commons


Could Airbnb be causing your home to lose value or leave you vulnerable to theft? Your guide to the unintended perils of Airbnb

Where to airbnb in north London? From happy family homes to artful pop pads, here's our favourite rentals.Where to airbnb in north London? From happy family homes to artful pop pads, here's our favourite rentals.

Have you ever rented on Airbnb? If so, you’ve probably noted the relative ease of the process, the in and out, easy breezy handover of keys from a lock box outside the property; swanky living in the heart of the city but without the impersonality of a stripped bare hotel room, with all the idiosyncrasies of a local home.

However, if you pitched up late at night on a cheap flight, or partied till dawn in your weekend residence, did you spare a moment for the neighbours you might be keeping awake at all hours? Did you think about who was renting out your property, and whether they were doing it legally? Did you consider your own personal safety?

Earlier this week, the Camden Federation of Private Tenants warned that Airbnb and similar short-lettings platforms were damaging the community and forcing pressure on the housing shortage, citing a recent report that revealed Camden was one of the top boroughs for short lets booked via the online rental platform.

There are currently 283 rentals listed on the website in Hampstead accommodating one guest, at an average of £84 per night. There are over 300 in Highgate, where the average price on the site is £66. In Primrose Hill, the average for a one bed is £94 from the 167 currently listed.

The CFPT are not alone in their worries. Marc von Grundherr, lettings director at Benham and Reeves Residential Lettings, is concerned that Airbnb and similar short-let platforms are damaging the market and leaving landlords and tenants vulnerable.

Is Airbnb affecting the price of your home?

The short-lets market has boomed in the last twenty years, with online rental platforms like Airbnb convincing more and more people to let out their homes short-term.

“Ten twenty years ago, people didn’t rent their apartments out short-term. People didn’t see their homes as a cash producing asset. If they went away on holiday for a month, they didn’t think ‘ooh lets whack somebody in there to give me some income’,” says Mr von Grundherr.

He warns that the market is being tested by these practices, and could even have an impact on the value of property. “If you’re in a building with four flats, and three of them are Airbnb, will you really want to live there? I don’t think I would,” says Mr von Grundherr. “I genuinely feel that there will be buildings where it will put off people to purchase, so it actually might adversely affect the value.”

Not only that, but for those already living in the property, Airbnb tenants could hike up the fees they pay to the freeholder. “You can always tell a building where there are short lets done, why? Because the common parts look like they’ve been bashed to hell because of cases going up and down the stairs. And then of course, who pays for that? Well, the other tenants have to pay a share of that to the freeholder to redo it,” he says.

What does the law say?

The Deregulation Act 2015 states that residential properties can be used as temporary accommodation in Greater London without a change in planning permissions as long as the property is not rented out for more than 90 days.

“It’s against the law, it’s against your lease and it’s against council regulations,” says Mr von Grundherr of ‘professional’ Airbnb landlords who continually rent out their properties.

Illegally subletting rooms without landlord consent is relatively easy, and the CFPT have warned that “rent-to-rent fiddles are becoming common as the unscrupulous realise that they can rent for themselves at one price and then sublet to others at a profit.”

What do the agents say?

Benham and Reeves Residential Lettings has a no-subletting policy. “We are very careful in our referencing to make sure that doesn’t happen, and if we find it, we go in to try and stop it,” says Mr von Grundherr.

The situation the letting agents are usually confronted with is one of two options. Either an Airbnb host is using the property effectively as a rent-to-rent business, or the tenant is letting out their flat whilst they are overseas for an extended period of time.

“The first one we have a policy completely against because often it’s banned under the head lease in any event. To be fair, if a tenant is renting from us and then they go back to Australia for a month and they let their flat through Airbnb, we say they shouldn’t do that, but we don’t have as much an issue,” answers Mr von Grundherr.

“What we don’t want to allow is a tenant, and there are quite a lot of them around, where they rent a property from us and then they permanently sublet it.”

There are a number of reasons for that, and it starts with the onus on the neighbouring tenants.

What do tenants say?

For those living in apartment blocks where flats are rented out online, new tenants can be intrusive. Mr von Grundherr asks: “What about other people in the building with random guests coming and going? From a security point of view, you don’t know who’s there from one minute to the next minute.”

One local renter who wished to remain anonymoussays: “Airbnb is a great way to make some money or cover your rent whilst you’re away, but even when you use it properly i.e. not renting a house out as a holiday home but letting people stay in a room, it has major drawbacks.

“I’ve had a situation where a housemate has rented their room out and left a key under the mat and not told me, and I’ve had a shock when strange men have let themselves in to my house at night when I’m home alone. It’s partly down to house share politics but as a system I think it’s quite risky letting people you don’t know have your keys.”

Law trainee Catherine McLaughlin rented a property in Camden Town with three bedrooms, one of which was being sub-letted as an Airbnb short-let. She said: My bedroom was next door to the guest’s and we shared the main bathroom. It was quite strange living in such proximity to a person when I knew nothing about their identity. Had there not been a lock on my door I would have felt unsettled at night, and did worry about leaving valuables in the room during the day.”

Ms McLaughlin believes that landlords should take their other tenants’ views into consideration when letting out spare rooms. “When considering using Airbnb, landlords should remember that people privately letting rooms view them as their home and a safe, private space. Letting out spare rooms on Airbnb should only be done with the tenant’s consent,” she argues.

The risks for landlords

In addition to being an agent, Mr von Grundherr is also a landlord. “In my own properties I’ve been tempted many, many times to do short lets, but the wear and tear on the flat, the lack of security; I’d much rather take a long term tenant,” he says.

Landlords have been squeezed by new regulations in recent years, such as the 3 per cent levy on second homes added to stamp duty in April of last year, adversely affecting buy-to-let landlords. “Landlords are squeezed,and you know what if you can let through Airbnb, and take more rent, and maybe do a deal with the tenants that they give you cash as opposed to doing it properly, then landlords don’t declare it at all.”

“I think a lot of landlords do get drawn into a situation unwittingly where they let to a tenant, and he or she short lets it. And that business is a hideous business. Ive seen it many times,” Mr von Grundherr adds.

He warns that letters who treat short-let properties as hotels, or party venues, are oblivious to the damage they could be doing to the property they are renting. “They tend to treat apartments like a hotel. What if they splash water all over the bathroom? They might not realise that actually you have to be careful because water seeps down the side into the flat underneath, they don’t have that kind of care and attention that a normal tenant would have.”

“It’s really bad from a security perspective,” cautions Mr von Grundherr. “You have no idea who’s living in your flat from week to week. And most landlords, if they sublet the property themselves through Airbnb, they honestly don’t change the keys every time they rent it, do they? No. Do they change the code for the alarm? No.”

“Once you’ve given your keys to somebody, they can get them cut and they’ve got your alarm code. You’re effectively leaving yourself up for being robbed.” Once insurance providers know that, you’ll leave yourself open to being refused cover in future, warns the agent.

With property such an expensive asset, it’s imperative that landlords protect themselves, Mr von Grundherr urges. “If you are a landlord, and you want to Airbnb, you need to make sure you think of all these things to protect yourself because if you don’t you will come an absolute cropper.”

What could be done?

Mr von Grundherr is reticent when it comes to suggesting policy ideas because of the unintentional impacts on the wider market. “I’m loathe to suggest further regulation because actually they run the length of your arm as it is and I believe the market should self regulate,” he says, adding that councils have few teeth which which to enforce those regulations already in place.

However, he suggests that more responsibility should be placed on the freeholder to enforce their leases more stringently when it comes to implications for bad practice. “At the moment the freeholder just doesn’t really care, but actually if there was more onus on the freeholder, I believe that they would be able to police it a bit more.”

Although Mr von Grundherr argues that Airbnb itself should take more responsibility, the burden ultimately lies on those renting out their properties on the site. “If people realised the risks that they run, then I think they might think twice.”

Property search

e.g. Oxford or NW3
Powered by Zoopla

Other Hampstead and Highgate property news

Eat your greens! How to keep your veggies growing for longer

Don’t come a cropper with our top tips for getting the best out of your garden crops

A prize property: this £10 million Highgate mansion was once home to a Nazi-fighting Nobel Prize winner

Flex your househunting muscles with this Victorian mansion with its very own blue plaque commemorating its former resident who saved 900 academics from the Nazi regime

Blur guitarist leads fight to save Camden Road Spiritualist Temple

Graham Coxon has joined forces with spiritualists to object to the demolition of Rochester Square Spiritualist Temple in NW1.

Stroud Green area guide: shops, restaurants, schools and property

Your guide to all the things to do in Stroud Green, including the best restaurants, shops, bars, delis and schools. PLUS our guide to property in N4

Hot property in Stroud Green: the top three homes on the market now

This week in our top three: family homes galore in N4

Ice cold: £1.5 million homes launch on site of famous former ice cream parlour

Get the scoop on the just launched Marine Ices development, which will feature 19 apartments ranging from £650,000 to £1.5 million

Comment: Jacob Rees-Mogg’s plan to scrap stamp duty is a dead moggy

The MP wants to do away with stamp duty and tear down tower blocks like Grenfell, but his ideas are a distraction from the housing crisis

Mayor announces £25 million investment in affordable homes scheme with developments in north London

Pocket Living will receive £25 million from Sadiq Khan to invest in more affordable homes for local workers and residents in the capital

Camden house prices have risen 8 per cent since the Brexit vote

House prices in Camden rise almost 4 per cent since May, with first time buyers taking out a quarter more mortgages

Property of the week: high tech family home in a private gated development

Set behind a Grade II listed wall this four bedroom home comes hard wired for technology including high speed wifi and a Sonos sound system

Balling: two north London developments are premier picks for footballers

These homes in north London are in the Premier League with park views, balconies and plenty of space for a kick around

Fun in the sun: 10 reasons to get your green fingered kids in the garden

Bosch Home and Garden reveal 10 valuable life lessons that can be learnt through getting children involved with garden projects this summer

Don’t lose the plot

As National Allotments Week approaches, the National Allotment Society offers advice on how to get a plot and what you need to think about.

Well read: Your summer property, homes and interiors reading list

From priced out artists to plywood surfboards, here’s all the property and interiors books you need to read this summer

Meet Radhika Seth, the CEO designing dream homes for the one per cent

Meet the woman bringing the wildest interior design and lifestyle architecture dreams of the world’s wealthiest people to life

3 metre wide alleyway in Marylebone to be turned into £2.7 million house

The gap betweent two buildings on the Euston Road is to be converted into a multi-million pound home despite opposition from a nextdoor pub

London’s Stalling: prime property in the capital lags behind national house price growth

Homes over £1 million failing to sell in aftermath of stamp duty changes and Brexit, with a record low for numbers of homes on the market

West Hampstead area guide: restaurants, shops, library, and train station

Your guide to all the things to do in West Hampstead, including the best restaurants, shops, bars, cinemas and schools. PLUS our guide to property in NW6

Hot Homes in West Hampstead: property for sale in NW6

On the market now in West Hampstead: two turnkey family homes and a Manhattan-style top floor apartment.

Is Stamp Duty really to blame for the housing crisis?

A Conservative MP has started a scrap over scrapping stamp duty. But would ditching the tax help get people – and the market – moving again?

Highgate Court developer reports 13 per cent increase in sales revenue

Developer of Highgate Court, Bellway Homes, bucks trend to report 13 per cent increase in housing revenue this year

Comment: Should first time buyers try their luck?

Stamp duty and Brexit have stalled house prices, whilst low interest rates means mortgages are cheap. But should first time buyers place a bet?

This London art gallery lets you try before you buy

Looking to inject your interiors with a little pizzazz? This online gallery lets you rent art beforehand so you can see how it looks in your home

Property in short supply in Camden, as prices rise but growth rate slumps

House prices are back on the rise after June slump, but annual growth is at its lowest rate since April 2013

Property of the Week: a Victorian maisonette with its own meadow

This garden maisonette comes with a communal meadow with its own woodland, as well as planning permission to add two more bedrooms

‘Home is where one starts from’: an apartment in the mansion block once home to T.S. Eliot

A two bedroom flat is on the market in Crawford Mansions, the green-plaque mansion block formerly home to Nobel Prize winner, T.S. Eliot.

Gaga for Gizmos: stock up on these high-tech home-gadgets

Home-tech doesn’t have to be all substance and no style. Find out the best high-tech products for you home here.

Peaceful planting: top five plants for a therapeutic garden

Horticultural therapy charity Thrive offers tips on how to make your garden a wellbeing haven.

‘Good news’ or just ‘spin’: Is demand for property in NW3 really up almost 80 per cent?

A new report claims that demand for property has surged in areas such as Primrose Hill and Belsize Park, but the reality is a little more complicated

Downsizers could release 2.8 million bedrooms if a stamp duty exemption is promised

Silver economy could provide £877 billion of equity by 2036 for first time buy homes

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

2017 © Archant Community Media Ltd

Terms and conditions | Cookie policy | Jobs at Archant