London - Suddenly, everything in the Airbnb garden is not looking so rosy.
A British court has ruled that thousands of flat owners who rent out their homes are likely to be breaking the law.
And then there are the high-profile cases of renters causing thousands of pounds worth of damage to properties — not to mention the claims that Airbnb is contributing to the UK’s worsening housing crisis.
On top of that, there are other issues that have become familiar to anyone living near a short-term rental flat, such as the endless banging of wheelie-suitcases on stairs and the uncertainties caused by neighbours changing several times a week.
The vandalism problems came to light in a series of major incidents earlier this year. Owners of a £500 000 apartment in Putney, southwest London, found their property trashed by Airbnb clients holding a New Year’s party in return for a rent of just £138 (about R2 500).
Then over the summer, Kensington & Chelsea council issued an enforcement notice — a legal warning — to the occupants of a flat rented through a website offering short lets called booking.com. This followed a series of complaints from neighbours about noisy tenants.
Now Airbnb — which set up in 2008 and has since been used for more than 80 million lettings in 190 countries — says it is taking notice of complaints with an online form for unhappy neighbours.
“Our team will review your complaint. If we match it with an active Airbnb listing, we’ll send your message to the host [owner] when possible,” says a spokesperson for the site. The names of those making the complaint are kept confidential.
The spokesperson defends those who let their homes: “More than a third of UK hosts earn below the median household income and almost half rely on the extra income they make by sharing their homes to make ends meet.”
Which explains why the controversies have done little to stem the tidal wave of owners using sites such as Airbnb, booking.com and onefinestay.com.
Last year, the British government deregulated short lets, allowing owners to rent out properties for fewer than 90 days a year without having to seek planning consent. Although the phenomenon is by no means confined to the capital, property consultancy JLL says the deregulation led to a surge in the number of London homes listed on Airbnb.
It says 25 357 were listed on the site at the start of this year, compared with just 171 at the end of 2009.
London now has the third highest number of Airbnb listings in the world behind Paris on 35 424 and New York on 30 480.