Oxford City Council has called on the government for a new approach to the way whole properties are rented out as short lets.
In a letter to housing minister Christopher Pincher, council leader Cllr Susan Brown expressed her concern about the impact of short lets in Oxford and said that legislation similar to that planned in Scotland would bring “clear benefits”.
The council believes that there are up to 900 homes in Oxford entirely rented out on short lets for all or most of the year. Cllr Brown acknowledged that short lets will play an important part in helping Oxford’s tourist economy recover from the pandemic but noted that the growing practice of letting out entire properties on this basis robs our city of much needed family homes.
In extreme cases, short let properties have been used for illegal or antisocial purposes – for example, as brothels or for regular loud parties.
The short let sector is virtually unregulated and Cllr Brown said that the council lacked the tools to effectively manage problematic short lets in a timely way. She called on the government to put short lets on a level playing field with other rented properties and rental businesses like hotels and guesthouses, which are all regulated.
Options for regulation
Regulation of short lets has been endorsed by Airbnb, which has recommended the creation of a register of short lets and a change in the law requiring planning permission before an owner can rent an entire house as a short let for more than 140 nights in a year.
The Scottish government is proposing legislation requiring all owners to have a licence before they are allowed to operate an entire property as a short let. This licence would ensure owners meet minimum safety standards with their short let property or properties, and would allow Scottish councils to set their own conditions to address local needs or concerns – such as restricting noise levels at night or littering.
The adoption of similar proposals in England would enable the council to attach planning conditions to short lets, restrict the number of short lets allowed in particular areas and take prompt action in cases of illegal and antisocial behaviour at individual properties. While the council took planning enforcement action against one short let property in July 2019, the owner appealed and the appeal was not dismissed by the Planning Inspectorate until August 2020 – but for lockdown, the property would have remained available as a short let for another 13 months.
“Oxford City Council first asked for powers to regulate short lets in 2018 and we believe that this is urgently required as we reopen and recover from COVID-19. We have no objection to people letting rooms in their own homes but the increasing number of whole properties rented on short lets creates problems we can’t tackle without tools like mandatory licensing and changes to planning law.
“Oxford requires all houses in multiple occupation to be licensed and we will be asking government to confirm our plans to license all private rented homes. Hotels and guesthouses are also subject to stringent regulation. Lack of regulation gives short let landlords an unfair advantage compared to residential landlords and other commercial lets. This is a loophole that needs to be closed and I look forward to the government’s response to our concerns.”
Councillor Susan Brown, leader of Oxford City Council
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