Published: Wednesday, 19 August 2020

In the first action of its kind in the city, Oxford City Council has won a planning appeal banning the use of a property for short lets.

In July last year, the council issued a planning enforcement notice against the owner of a property in William Street being used as a short let. This followed a complaint from a local resident that they were experiencing antisocial behaviour and nuisance from the property.

The owner appealed to the Planning Inspectorate, which has dismissed the appeal and required the owner to stop using it as a short let from this month.

The council is now repeating its call for short let landlords to apply for planning change of use before it takes action against other properties in the city. It is also calling for effective government regulation of the sector.

The issue

There has been a rapid increase in the number of short let properties in Oxford since the rise of websites like Airbnb and Homeaway.

The use of such websites to rent out entire properties for most of or all of the year has resulted in a loss of valuable family homes. In extreme cases, short lets have been used for illegal or antisocial purposes.

On a search of just one website in February there were nearly 1,500 short lets available in Oxford.

Current planning regulations

Landlords now only have to apply for planning permission when there is a ‘material change’ in the use of a property. Where a home is being used for short lets, this can be a matter of judgement based on the facts of the case.

This means councils are not automatically notified when entire homes become used for short lets. They must rely on complaints from members of the public, lengthy investigations and individual assessments on whether there has been such a change.

Apart from enforcement action against short let properties without planning permission, councils can only tackle effects like antisocial behaviour and nuisance. However, it is difficult to do this when there is a stream of different people using a property.

Council wins planning case

In spite of these difficulties, the council issued a planning enforcement notice against the owner of a property in William Street after complaints from a local resident.      

The council subsequently concluded the property was in breach of planning law as there had been no application for a material change of use. Attempts to resolve this were unsuccessful and the council issued an enforcement notice against unauthorised use of the property in July last year.

The owner of the property appealed the notice to the Planning Inspectorate.

The council’s evidence included screenshots of 100 reviews from two short let websites. A planning inspector also undertook a site visit in June.

On the balance of probabilities, the inspector agreed that “a largely transient pattern and frequency of occupation” indicated that the property was a short let rather than a normal dwelling house.

The Planning Inspectorate dismissed the appeal and upheld the council’s enforcement notice. The William Street property can now no longer be used as a short let.

This is the first time the council has taken action against a short let landlord in this way. It is now considering similar action against other landlords who are operating unauthorised short lets throughout the year.

Council calls on government to introduce effective regulation of short lets

The council has repeatedly called for the government to introduce effective regulation of short lets. It says that councils should have more powers enabling them to take action without needing to rely on complaints and a lengthy enforcement process.

This is a call echoed in parts of the short let sector. Last year Airbnb recommended the creation of a government register of short lets and a change in the law requiring landlords to get planning permission before renting an entire house as a short let for more than 140 nights in a year.

“I am really pleased that the Planning Inspectorate has found in our favour. However, it is frustrating that it has taken more than a year to stop antisocial behaviour at a single short let property.

“There are hundreds of short let properties in Oxford and almost none of them have planning permission. This means we have no record of which properties are short lets or any way of taking quick action against landlords.

“I first asked the government to take action on this more than two years ago. I realise there are other priorities right now but this nettle should have been grasped long before the pandemic hit.

“Short lets in Oxford have resulted in a loss of valuable family homes. In some extreme cases, short lets have been used for regular loud parties and even as brothels. This case shows that we do take the issue seriously and we will chase landlords through the legal system if necessary.

“If you are experiencing antisocial behaviour from a neighbouring short let property, please do get in touch by emailing”

Councillor Alex Hollingsworth, Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Delivery

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