UK: Airbnb host evicted and fined for letting council flat

A council tenant has been evicted and ordered to pay more than £100,000 for illegally subletting his council flat in London as a holiday home through Airbnb.

Westminster City Council took legal action against Toby Harman, 37, after it was found that the property on Vauxhall Bridge Road had been advertised on the letting site with over 300 reviews dating back to 2013.

The council’s corporate anti-fraud service found some of the reviews mentioned the tenant by his name, thanking him for his advice and local restaurant recommendations. Bank statements also proved he had been receiving payments from Airbnb for a number of years. Harman did not co-operate with the investigation.

The tenant was taken to court by Westminster City Council for flouting the terms of his tenancy agreement and last summer the council was awarded a possession order for the property. The tenant’s permission to appeal this was unsuccessful and at a recent hearing, the judge made an Unlawful Profits Order (UPO) of £100,974.94 – one of the highest that has ever been awarded to the council. The tenant has now been evicted from the property.

Westminster City Council has a specialist council team set up to tackle abuses of short-term lettings and more than 1,500 properties in Westminster alone are under investigation. The council is calling on the UK government to introduce a compulsory cross-platform registration scheme for property owners, so councils know what properties are being short term let and for how long.

Cllr Andrew Smith, Westminster City Council cabinet member for housing services, said: “Social housing is there to provide much-needed homes for our residents, not to generate illicit profits for dishonest tenants. 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.

“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.

“We’re also pressing Government to introduce a national registration scheme to make it far easier for us to take action against anyone who breaks the rules on short term letting.”

Last year, Westminster successfully recovered 24 social housing properties from fraudsters meaning they can now be allocated to residents in need of a new home.

Airbnb, whose listings in London have increased fourfold to 80,000 since 2015, said the property was taken off its listings earlier this year. The company said it routinely reminded hosts of the rules on short-term letting, including for subsidised housing, and it “takes action” when any suspicious activity is flagged.

A statement added: “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.”

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