Airbnb host fined £100,000 and evicted for letting out London council flat to tourists

Council discovers fake account with more than 300 reviews on popular rental site

Conrad Duncan
Tuesday 30 July 2019 19:31
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The number of rooms available on Airbnb has surged in London in recent years with nearly 80,000 listings on the website
The number of rooms available on Airbnb has surged in London in recent years with nearly 80,000 listings on the website

An Airbnb host has been ordered to pay a £100,000 fine and evicted after he rented out his council flat to tourists.

Council tenant Toby Harman rented out his studio apartment in Victoria, central London, by using a fake profile under the name “Lara” on the website.

He was uncovered when anti-fraud software found reviews mentioning the tenant by name and thanking him for advice, Westminster City Council said.

The council added that bank statements also showed he had received payments from Airbnb for a number of years.

The property had reportedly been advertised on the website since 2013 and received more than 300 reviews.

Westminster City Council has called for a compulsory cross-platform registration scheme for property owners to make it easier to take action against misuse of council housing.

The council said it has successfully recovered 24 social housing properties from fraudsters in 2018 and more than 1,500 properties in the area alone are currently under investigation over possible abuses of short-term lettings.

“Social housing is there to provide much-needed homes for our residents, not to generate illicit profits for dishonest tenants,” Andrew Smith, a councillor for Westminster City Council, said.

“It’s illegal for council tenants to sublet their homes and we carry out tenancy checks, as well as monitoring short-term letting websites for any potential illegal sublets.”

He added: “Along with a six-figure unlawful profit order, by getting a possession order, we can now reallocate the property to someone in genuine need of a home.

Airbnb’s guidelines for hosts in the UK warns that “subsidised or social housing usually has rules that prohibit subletting without permission” and advises users to check with their housing authority before becoming a host.

An Airbnb spokesperson said the property had been removed from the platform earlier this year.

“We regularly remind hosts to check and follow local rules – including on subsidised housing – and we take action on issues brought to our attention,” they said.

“Airbnb is the only platform that works with London to limit how often hosts can share their space and we support proposals from the mayor of London for a registration system to help local authorities regulate short term lets and ensure rules are applied equally to hosts on all platforms in the capital.”

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has called for a registration system for anyone who wants to rent out a property for less than 90 days to protect long-term renters in the capital.

“Short-term lets are a benefit to visitors to London, and to Londoners themselves who want to earn a little extra money,” Mr Khan said in April.

“But these benefits must be balanced with the need to protect long-term rented housing, and to make sure neighbours aren’t impacted by a high turnover of visitors.”

The number of rooms available on Airbnb has surged in London in recent years, quadrupling since 2015 with nearly 80,000 rooms or homes listed on the website, according to figures from Inside Airbnb (an independent group who analyse public data on the website's listings).

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