Here’s my bid for a new entry in the Oxford English Dictionary: “airbnbreach”. With more than 100,000 British properties now listed on holiday hosting websites such as Airbnb, HomeAway and Wimdu, annoyed homeowners are starting to take their short-letting neighbours to court.
I’ve had a taste of it this month. Just after midnight, the phone woke us up — water was gushing out of a burst pipe in a central London block of flats run by my husband’s property firm. The source, it turned out, was behind the bath panel in a second-floor flat occupied by (non-Airbnb) online short-let guests from Mexico. The guests called the firm hired by the flat’s owner to run these lets and claim an adviser told them to ignore the neighbours’ reports of water streaming into three downstairs homes. No one was available to come and check at that hour and they should “forget about it”, they claim to have been told. The leak caused damage of an estimated £15,000.
Another building manager, Stephen Britton, of Sourcing Property, once had to deal with an owner who “Airbnb-ed” rooms in a leasehold house on a new-build estate in southwest London. The trouble was, not all the guests were allowed to use the bathroom in the house — they had to shower in the communal gym.
Of course, most responsible owners let their homes trouble-free, even using them to fund their travels, as we report in The golden gap year, but serious problems can arise. A few days ago, Airbnb launched a page where neighbours can report issues with local listings, including noise (airbnb.com/neighbors). Britain’s first known ruling against an Airbnb host, made last year, came after neighbours of St John Guy Rogers called police to a party of 150 people at his flat in Streatham Hill, south London. They had reported three other unholy rackets at the flat, but the crux of the problem was the security risk. “I don’t feel safe having strangers every week coming in and out of the flat across the hall,” wrote Sarah Smith, his neighbour in the penthouse opposite.
Giles Peaker, a property lawyer at Anthony Gold solicitors, tells me he has taken on a “couple of cases” brought by Airbnb neighbours. So what can you do when suitcases bumping up and down the stairs wake you up every second night? If speaking to the owner doesn’t help, your best bet is via the freeholder (if there is one). They can get an injunction for the owner to comply with the lease, which often bans using a flat to run a business, or seek forfeiture to take back the property.
It would be easier, though, for Airbnb and its rivals simply to make it impossible for London hosts to list homes for more than 90 days a year. That’s the limit set by the capital’s planning rules, yet two-thirds of its Airbnb listings are for longer, says the Residential Landlords Association. Last month, Berlin banned online short lets of whole properties (but not rooms), over fears they are driving up rents for local tenants. Yet there are still more than 9,000 such Berlin listings on Airbnb, the analysis site Insideairbnb.com reports. Airbnb tells hosts: “You should check the position carefully with your local authority.” However, it’s time for the sharing economy to take more responsibility for how it reshapes our neighbourhoods.
■ It’s official: No 1 is, well, number one, at least when it comes to terraced house prices. In exclusive research, Savills estate agency compared Land Registry sale prices for end-of-terrace properties addressed No 1 with those of their mid-terrace neighbours, and found that the former are typically worth 11% more.
The premium is highest in the West Midlands and the northwest, where buyers paid 18% extra for No 1 terraces: the average sale price was £171,000, £25,000 more than for mid-terraces. In London, they went for 14.5% more, at £691,000. Only in Wales were they cheaper (by 0.7%) — perhaps because the stalwart Welsh have resisted the march of the great glass kitchen extension.
This column was published in The Sunday Times Home on 12 June 2016