In all civilised countries there is legislation which protects tenants from summary eviction. In England it is less protective than many people think it should be. Under the Housing Act of 1988, tenants must in general be given a minimum of six months tenure. There are exceptions to this. One is where the landlord lives alongside the tenant (not necessarily in the same space). Another is where the tenant takes the accommodation for holiday purposes.

Airbnb takes advantage of both these exceptions. Should there be further regulation?

There already is in London. Under the 1973 Greater London Council (General Powers) Act any letting of residential property for short term or temporary use required planning permission.

But few applications were made and there was little or no enforcement. The 2015 Deregulation Act introduced an exemption, stating that permission to rent homes as temporary/holiday accommodation would no longer be required as long as it was for no more than 90 nights a year, and the person providing it was liable to pay council tax.

Why did this relaxation have any greater effect? Because the Mayor of London’s office negotiated directly with the head office of Airbnb in San Francisco and persuaded them to implement self-regulation. From 1 January 2017, Airbnb’s systems have automatically limited entire home listings in Greater London to 90 nights per year, unless the hosts can demonstrate they have permission to share their space more frequently. (It is fair to add that the internet teems with advice on how to get round this restriction).

However, neither the 1973 legislation nor its 2015 modification apply anywhere in England outside London. Even if they did, they would need to negotiate with Airbnb for either the same self-enforcement nationwide or a degree of planning enforcement which councils like Hastings are unlikely to be able to fund.

In New York the advent of Airbnb not only spurred the enacting of a Multiple Dwelling Law prohibiting letting apartments situated in blocks of over three units for under 30 days. The city council also voted to spend US$3 million per year to enforce this restriction.

Similarly serious intent seems rather less likely to be shown in Hastings, where our Borough Council apparently can’t (or won’t) even police flagrant breaches of planning controls when they are emblazoned on the pier in gold paint.

HBC spokesperson Barbara Browning added: “The majority of Airbnb hosts in Hastings do
not meet the threshold of 90 days to require change of use permission”.

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