Comment: Camden should follow Berlin’s lead over Airbnb

Airbnb has created a new breed of parasitic hipster, feeding off the cities they (sort of) call home

Airbnb has created a new breed of parasitic hipster, feeding off the cities they (sort of) call home - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Airbnb must be encouraged but regulated so that popular areas like Camden can continue to attract tourists and serve locals at the same time.

I’ve long been a fan of Airbnb. I love being able to holiday like a local, staying in non-tourist neighbourhoods free from the shackles of old fashioned Saturday to Saturday self-catering requirements. I also like that people can subsidise their rent or mortgage, or just make their mini break habit cost neutral by subletting their homes.

However, on a recent visit to Berlin the flipside of Airbnb’s fabled convenience became apparent for the first time. I booked a private room in a French man called Cyrille’s flat. On arrival though, it turned out I wouldn’t be staying with Cyrille, but with three random French girls who were also in the city on holiday. Cyrille would be across town at his girlfriend’s.

This was a perfect example of the site’s parasitic nature: a French man moves to Berlin in pursuit of cheap rent and a ‘creative’ existence, he rents a flat, then finds a girlfriend but rather than moving out and freeing it up for the next would-be bohemian, he holds on to it and uses it to turn a profit.

In Camden, where the council have been attempting to curb online sublets since the government deregulated the service in London, there are 2,241 live Airbnb listings, according to the data website Inside Airbnb. Nearly two thirds of those listings are for entire flats – landlords are increasingly opting to let properties as holiday rentals, rather than to regular tenants as they can make more money with no responsibility. Airbnbusinesses thrive.

It’s hardly surprising that with almost 1,500 properties taken out of the general rental market in Camden alone Airbnb has been accused of worsening London’s housing crisis, putting strain on supply and pushing up prices.

In Berlin, the city government has taken steps to dilute the rent rises and shortage of homes that were making it a victim of its own success, introducing rent controls and curbing Airbnb use. Yet suggestions to take similar (quite mild) steps in London are treated like something between childish fantasy and dangerous lunacy.

Meanwhile thirty-somethings are moving back into their childhood bedrooms faced with salary draining, substandard rentals. The Airbnb model is almost certainly the future – anything that damn easy to use is hardly going to fall out of favour with consumers – so there’s no point in fighting it, but cities should engage with it robustly, encouraging tourism whilst protecting the people who actually live and work in them.