Labour councillor Murad Gassanly
Published: 20 November, 2015
by ALINA POLIANSKAYA
RESIDENTIAL properties are being let out as holiday homes on a near-industrial scale, changing the historic make-up of central London neighbourhoods, City Hall has been warned.
Councillors have been asked to investigate the growing trend for landlords to give up long-stay tenants in favour of taking bookings from tourists through websites such as Airbnb, which can prove more financially lucrative.
Residents in Pimlico this week spoke out about how the increasing number of lets to holidaymakers was changing their area, with people on the Churchill Gardens Estate complaining that a settled community was being replaced by an endless stream of people with suitcases coming and going. Some say they no longer know who their neighbours are.
Labour councillor Murad Gassanly raised the issue at last week’s full council meeting after residents complained to him about “noisy parties” being held at properties and said former council flats were now being set up as rooms “numbered like a hotel”.
He urged the council to investigate the issue and to find out whether any council properties were being rented out – which is normally against tenancy rules.
The government is currently relaxing the rules on short lets to allow more people with property to cash in on Airbnb-style bookings, effectively turning their portfolios into mini-hotels and often undercutting the hospitality industry’s big names.
Cllr Gassanly, who lives on the Churchill Gardens Estate, said: “We have started noticing a lot of tourists and that the frequency of how quickly people are moving in and out is increasing. People are staying for a week or two, then moving on. I have had people complaining of people having parties and being noisy all weekend.”
He added: “One woman told me she knocked on someone’s door and noticed all the rooms were numbered and there was tourist advertising in there. I looked on Airbnb and there are more than 30 properties on there on the Churchill Gardens Estate at any one time. Long-term residents of the estate say it does undermine the sense of community and does create a transient atmosphere on the estate.”
Madge Cavalla, 82, who has been a council tenant in Churchill Gardens for more than 40 years, said: “When I first moved here it was an estate that was beautiful to live in, I was in a lovely block. But unfortunately now, other than a few people on the ground floor, I don’t know anyone at all. I see a lot of people going up and down with cases. They go away and then a new lot comes up with cases.”
Letting a property in a prime location such as Pimlico in a hotel-style arrangement can result in higher profits than simply renting it out.
Ms Cavall said: “This is an ideal place for people to come to on holiday because of Buckingham Palace and so forth, which is why people buy them with no intention to stay there. The feeling on the estate is appalling at the moment. There isn’t a community anymore.”
She added: “There is no way I would give my flat up. I know if I did it would be sold by the council to someone who would rent it out.”
The Churchill Gardens Estate, which was developed between 1946 and 1962, has 1,600 homes across 32 houses. Many were sold off through the right to buy scheme and are now a mix of council homes and private rents.
Long-term resident Viktor George Beauvois, 69, said: “There are loads of people coming at all hours, morning, noon and night. Rooms are being let out on a daily and weekly basis.”
Conservative Cllr Heather Acton said: “We were very disappointed with the government decision to deregulate and enable short letting for a 90-day period of a calendar year.”
She said they are lobbying the government to “bring in some sort of registration system for platform bookers” so that they can monitor how long people are letting for. The council has also applied for whole-ward exemptions for Bryanston and Dorset Square and Hyde Park wards, as well as about 20 individual properties across the borough.
Cllr Acton added: “On Airbnb there are 3,000 properties across Westminster and 2,000 of those are whole properties, not just a room. And 80 per cent of those are let 100 per cent of the time. They are not people going on holiday, they are people investing in a flat to short let it all the time, and the rent they get is four times the normal annual rent, if not more. It has become a business. There was a one-bedroom flat in Covent Garden which is advertised on Airbnb as sleeping seven.”