Home sharing sites being abused, BHA chief tells MPs

Professional landlords operating outside UK regulations at an “industrial scale” are manipulating the so-called sharing economy and endangering the safety of the public, MPs have been told.

The warning about how Airbnb and other home sharing sites are being abused came from British Hospitality Association chief executive, Ufi Ibrahim.

She was providing evidence to the Business Innovation and Skills Committee on behalf of the hospitality and tourism industry.

Ibrahim argued that home exchange websites are made up of many large-scale landlords, operating multiple properties rather than individual homeowners to which the sharing economy was intended to service.

She revealed industry research, which estimates that:

  • 40% of all home-exchange website listings are ‘professional landlords’ running unregulated ‘pseudo-hotels’
  • The top 1,000 home-exchange hosts are netting £150 million of accommodation revenue a year
  • Half of all home-exchange listings are entire properties rather than rooms in host’s own homes
  • London is most affected with the largest number of landlords – 40% of all listings in London are multiple property owners renting accommodation on a short-term basis year-round

Platforms such as Airbnb are allowing hosts to circumvent planning regulations, break short lettings regulations and avoid tax, food, health and fire safety regulations, she claimed.

The industry is particularly concerned that the UK’s trusted reputation as a high quality and safe tourist destination could be damaged if guest health, safety and security checks are not properly delivered, Ibrahim told MPs.

The BHA put forward three key proposals to properly regulate home exchange websites and bring them up to the quality standards of the tourism and hospitality industry.

They should:

  • Share with government bodies (London Authorities & Councils, HMRC) named host level data to demonstrate clearly:

    • Who is letting over 90 nights in London?
    • How many people are letting out a secondary residence?
    • How much tax is due on the income?
    • How staff are employed and paid to service multi-rentals?

  • Directly restrict landlords from letting out for more than 90 days per year through their platform.
  • Require much stricter checks on safety and security, something other sharing economy platforms, such as Uber, have already implemented.

The BHA believes that tourists should be free to choose to stay in whichever accommodation they prefer. But they must be afforded the same basic health and safety protection.

Airbnb’s head of public policy in Europe, Patrick Robinson, told the committee that most professional landlords in the UK were providing suitable holiday accommodation.

However, he admitted that in some areas, professional landlords were putting strain on London’s housing stock.

He added: “That’s not something we want to see and we’re working with the councils to resolve. Where councils bring us evidence that there have been enforcement issues, we will take appropriate action.

“The notion that people are subverting regulation is obviously something to be opposed and tackled and dealt with.

Robinson said Airbnb was “a platform built on the trust we generate with our users,” The Times reported.

He added: “We’ve introduced things to help protect consumers. We’ve taken steps to go beyond what we’re legally required to do.”

Consumer protections afforded to hotel guests were stronger than those available to Aribnb users but consumers recognised this, he said

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