Over the last decade there has been a rapid increase in the number of short lets in Oxford since the rise of websites like Airbnb and Homeaway.
The council considers this to be a “major problem”. Since 2018, it has repeatedly called for a licensing scheme putting whole house short lets on a level playing field with other private rented and commercial tourist accommodation.
The problem of short lets
The AirDNA website currently shows 1,697 active short let rentals in Oxford. More than half of these – 878, or 52% – are let as entire properties.
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 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 means that all private 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.
Earlier this month, cabinet agreed proposals to start charging for waste collections at whole house short lets registered as commercial businesses. This will remove an unfair advantage over hotels and guest houses.
What needs to be done
The council has responded to the Department for Digital, Culture Media & Sport consultation which closes today reiterating previous calls for a mandatory licensing scheme for whole house short lets.
Mandatory licensing would ensure owners meet minimum safety standards with their short let properties. 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 would also like to see changes to planning legislation, with the designation of homes used predominantly as short term lets as a separate planning class.
Such a move would allow the council introduce policies 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.
Ian Wright, head of regulatory services and community safety, said: “Nobody is objecting to people renting out rooms in their own home through websites like Airbnb. But the growing number of entire homes rented out as short lets is a huge problem in Oxford.
“Short lets deprive our city of much needed homes, exacerbating our affordability crisis. Antisocial and illegal behaviour by people using short lets are a blight on our communities. And the uncontrolled rise in short lets risks parts of our city becoming a virtual ghost town, impacting schools and other local services.
“While we do what we can to tackle the impact of problematic short lets our powers are limited. We first called for the government to introduce effective regulation of short lets in 2018. They’ve belatedly acknowledged that short lets are an issue. Now, it’s time for action.”