Oxford City Council has renewed a longstanding call for powers to regulate properties entirely rented out as short lets, in response to two government consultations.
The rise of websites like Airbnb and Vrbo has led to a rapid increase in the number of short lets in Oxford in the last decade.
The council considers this to be a major problem. Since 2018, it has repeatedly lobbied government for a licensing scheme to put whole house short lets on a level playing field with other privately rented and commercial tourist accommodation.
The problem of short lets
AirDNA currently shows 1,284 active short let rentals in Oxford. More than half of these – 732, or 57% – are let as entire properties.
The increase in renting out entire properties for most or all of the year has resulted in the loss of valuable homes in one of the most unaffordable places for housing in the UK.
In extreme cases, short lets have been used for illegal or antisocial purposes. Short lets are often in quiet residential neighbourhoods and the strain this causes can be immense.
The short let sector is virtually unregulated. This means the council has little power to enforce standards required for other rented accommodation.
There is no requirement for short lets to be licensed or for landlords to automatically notify the council when a property has been converted into a short let.
A citywide selective licensing scheme introduced on 1 September 2022 means that all privately rented homes in Oxford now need a licence. However, properties let as holiday homes are exempt under the Housing Act 2004.
It is also difficult to tackle issues like antisocial behaviour and nuisance when there is a stream of different people using a property,
The council has taken successful planning enforcement action in a number of cases for changing the use of a house into holiday accommodation without planning permission.
However, this is a lengthy process which relies on people making complaints about particular properties.
What needs to be done
The council has responded to a Department for Digital, Culture Media & Sport consultation by calling for a mandatory registration licensing scheme for whole house short lets, run and enforceable by councils.
Mandatory registration would ensure owners meet minimum safety standards. It would make investigating complaints significantly easier and allow the council to set its own conditions to address local needs or concerns – such as restricting noise levels at night or littering.
In the most extreme cases, it would provide the council with wider and easier-to-use powers to take action against the illegal use of short lets.
The council has also responded to a parallel Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities consultation on the introduction of a new planning class for homes rented out as short lets for more than 30 days a year.
The council is in favour of this proposal and says that owners should not have automatic permission to change a family home to a short let.
The introduction of a new planning class for short lets would allow the council to restrict their numbers and location and for enforceable conditions to be applied where necessary. This would help prevent the loss of much-needed housing and reduce adverse impacts on local communities.
Both consultations are now closed.
“Nobody objects to people renting out rooms in their own home through websites like Airbnb. But the growing number of entire homes predominantly rented out as short lets is a major problem in Oxford.
“We’re among the least affordable places for housing in the UK and depriving our city of much-needed homes only worsens Oxford’s affordability crisis. Antisocial and illegal behaviour by people using short lets causes misery in our communities. And if the rise in short lets is not controlled it risks parts of our city becoming a virtual ghost town. This is a problem that is already impacting schools and other local services.
“We first called for the government to introduce regulation of short lets in 2018. We’re in favour of a mandatory registration scheme and reforms to the planning system making it easier to deal with the problems caused by short lets. We hope to see these changes soon.”
Councillor Linda Smith, cabinet member for housing