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Westminster opposes new laws making Airbnb legal for London homeowners

PUBLISHED: 17:15 10 February 2015 | UPDATED: 17:15 10 February 2015

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Westminster Council is calling for curbs on Government proposals to allow Londoners to rent out their homes on a short term basis without obtaining planning permission.

The reforms, which will remove restrictions on Londoners who want to let property for less than 90 days, were announced on Monday.

They would make it easier for people to put their homes on sites such as Airbnb while on holiday, part of an internet-driven trend dubbed the ‘sharing economy’.

At the moment, any London resident renting out their home without paying for a permit is liable for a fine of up to £20,000 each time.

Housing Minister Brendon Lewis said: “We live in the 21st century, and London homeowners should be able to rent out their home for a short period without having to pay for a council permit.

“These laws date from the long-gone era of the GLC, and need to be updated for the internet age.”

However, some town halls have expressed concerns over the reforms, with Westminster the first to respond requesting modifications to the proposed Deregulation Bill, which is currently before Parliament.

Westminster City Council cabinet member for sustainability, Cllr Heather Acton, said: “This is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Short term letting is a major issue in central London, and local businesses and residents have raised concerns in equal measure.

“Our own observations have shown us the scale of the issue – from housing benefit fraud and illegal immigration, to vomit on the doorstep and fires in the corridors.

“So, to be clear, we are asking for two things.

“A simple, online, one-click-of-the-button registration, to help us understand when someone is letting their flat and for how long.

“And a reduction in the length of a short term lets from three months to one month. So we can be sure that it is for holiday purposes.

“It is about making sure housing in central London does not become a chain of default hotels with rooms rented out at exorbitant prices to the highest bidder.”

The proposals would bring London in line with the rest of the UK, which is not subject to the same restrictions on short-term letting.

To avoid exploitation of the new laws, properties would have to be liable for Council Tax to prove they are residential, and councils could take action against property owners flouting rules.

There is also an option for councils to request exemption for small, localised exemptions to flexibility.

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