Opinion: Government must get a grip on short-term lets

Jessica Learmond-Criqui is worried about the impacts Airbnb short-lets are having on Camden.

Jessica Learmond-Criqui is worried about the impacts Airbnb short-lets are having on Camden. - Credit: Archant

Is unchecked capitalism ruining our communities? I speak here of Airbnb, as one example. Its popularity and success is undeniable. But the impact of its unchecked commercialism is being felt deeply within the fabric of our society - and in hitherto unexpected ways.

At the last full council meeting of Camden Council, evidence was given of one of the wide ranging impacts of Airbnb short-lets which was hitherto hidden from public view. Namely, council tenants are renting out their flats on Airbnb, moving out of the area and renting elsewhere, pocketing the difference. A good move by them, you might say. But, as a result, Camden Council has only just realised that pupil numbers are dropping in a way not previously foreseen. When these tenants move out, they move out with their children. This means that there may not be enough pupils to fill places in some government schools in the coming years.

This is because each government school receives public funds depending, literally, on how many pupils attends the school. So, if the numbers fall, the school will receive less funds which could compromise ultimately its ability to function with the full curriculum which many now carry. That puts into jeopardy the continuation of some of these schools which are attended by many children in our communities. This may impact on their education at a site near to their homes. Current Camden government schools may have to fight for pupils to fill their spaces in order to guarantee their funding.

Apart from educational impacts, Airbnb's increased presence in the form of short lets leads to shortages of rental property as opportunists rent multiple properties, not for themselves, but for short let purposes, again pocketing the difference. This leads to increased rent for others who work or wish to live longer term in the area and thereby squews the ability of young people to put down roots in the area.

The character and vibrancy of an area depends on its residents who care about where they live. The proliferation of short lets in an area sees some properties remaining empty during void periods. Such voids coupled with the depletion of long term residents impacts on the nature of any neighbourhood.

These lets also impact on the ability of residents to protect their environment as less interact with their local councils about what works and may not work in their local communities. In addition, useful businesses dependent on regular trade from local residents may not be sustainable and close. This, in particular, hits independent traders who are the heart of any community. Thus, the seeds of the spiral of decline become embedded.

Not all Airbnb customers are thoughtful and antisocial behaviour by some tenants is a constant complaint. The over commercialisation which has become Airbnb, while a boon for the cash strapped or for opportunists, eats unseen at the heart of any community. It is estimated that one in 50 London homes are on the Airbnb list. The problem is massive.

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Legally, a resident can rent out their home on a short let for 90 days per year, but this law is regularly flaunted and ignored. Unless councils can enforce breaches with proper powers and funding, the fabric of our neighbourhoods will continue to be eroded with impunity.

The government has not got a grip on the systemic effects of what seems to be an innocuous commercial activity. It needs to get a grip and to legislate accordingly, giving councils the powers to regulate this activity and the funding to enforce against recalcitrant landlords.

It is time to let the air out of Airbnb, gently but firmly and to let private landlords know that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is now empty.