City Council calls on short-let landlords of entire homes in Oxford to apply for planning permission

Published: Monday, 21st October 2019

Oxford City Council is calling for short-let landlords renting out an entire house in Oxford for more than 140 nights a year to come forward and apply for planning permission.

With increasing calls for new national laws – including from Oxford City Council and the industry itself – to tighten regulations around short-term lets, the City Council is urging landlords to get ahead of a potential rush and get their applications in now.

Current regulations

Currently, the Government’s national planning laws require landlords to apply for planning permission when there is a ‘material change’ in the use of the property. But the phrase ‘material change’ is ill-defined.

This means local authorities are not automatically notified when entire homes become used for short-terms lets, and – to prove a ‘material change’ in the use of the property – local authorities are reliant on complaints from members of the public, time-consuming investigations and case-by-case assessments.

The use of short-term let websites to rent out entire properties for most of or all of the year has resulted in a loss of valuable family homes, and, in extreme cases, properties being used for illegal or anti-social purposes. In Oxford, for example, some short-lets have been used as brothels or for regular loud parties.

Emerging proposals

But now short-let company Airbnb has launched a consultation in which they recommend that the UK Government changes the law to require landlords to receive planning permission before they rent out an entire house on a short-let basis for more than 140 nights in a year.

The Scottish Parliament has just completed a consultation on regulating the short-let sector, while in London landlords are already required to seek planning permission if they are letting out an entire house on a short-let basis for more than 90 nights in a year.

If the Government introduced similar laws across the country, it would require short-let landlords in Oxford to receive planning permission from the City Council before they rented out their entire home for a long period of time.

This would have numerous benefits:

  • It would enable the City Council to attach planning conditions to short-let properties, for example by restricting the use to avoid the loss of housing or to reduce the impact on the community
  • It would provide the City Council with a complete list of entire homes that are being rented throughout the year on a short-let basis, which would make investigations significantly easier and could be used in deciding whether or not to grant planning permission for further short-lets within a community
  • It would provide the City Council with more – and significantly easier to use –powers to take action against the illegal use of short-let properties. The City Council could, for example, simply remove planning permission to use the house as a short let.

Recent legal action

In spite of the current difficulty in taking action against short-let properties, Oxford City Council has issued planning enforcement notice against the owner of a short-let property in William Street.      

The City Council received a complaint from a local resident that they were experiencing anti-social behaviour and nuisance from the property, which was being used as a short-let. Following an investigation, the City Council concluded it was a material change of use that was in breach of planning legislation.

The planning enforcement notice requires the owner to cease operating the property as a short-term let. As the homeowner did not appeal against the notice, it came into effect on 29 August.

The City Council is considering similar action against at least three other landlords who are operating short-term lets on entire properties in Oxford throughout the year.

“Oxford has a housing crisis, and landlords have exacerbated the situation by removing permanent housing from the market, and further increasing rents, by renting their homes on short-let websites.

“In Oxford, we have seen houses rented through short-let websites used as brothels and for loud parties. But short-lets are currently a grey area of the law – there is little regulation to enable local authorities to protect communities from unlawful use of the houses.

“But the tide is turning and, with Airbnb recommending new regulations, it seems increasingly likely that the Government will have to act. With that in mind, we are calling on short-let landlords who rent out an entire house in Oxford for more than 140 nights a year to immediately seek planning permission.”

Councillor Linda Smith, Deputy Leader of Oxford City Council

Airbnb, in its consultation, is also proposing that the details of landlords who rent out their entire house on a short-term basis for 28 to 139 nights a year should be kept on a national register.

Under the proposal, the register could be accessed by local authorities – enabling them to be notified when homes are converted to short-term let, and to more easily take action against properties impacting a community.

Airbnb’s proposal would not apply to people who live in a house and rent a spare room.

In 2018, City Council Cabinet Member Alex Hollingsworth backed calls from a London council for the Government to introduce legislation to compel short-term letting hosts to apply for a licence and be included in a register kept by the Council.

According to a BBC report, nearly half of listings on short-let websites come from hosts with more than one property, and in London 24% of listings are by hosts with five or more sites.

A search of just one short-let website suggests that there are more than 300 entire homes in Oxford that are being rented on a short-let basis.