When Airbnb rentals become nuisance neighbours

Short-term sublets can turn into a nightmare, but a tribunal ruling offers some hope to long-suffering residents

I first realised I was living next door to a weekend sublet two years ago. Late one Saturday night I heard boys yelling and loud music, and the thumping against the walls was so hard one of my picture frames fell off and cracked on the floor. I presumed the neighbours had a teenager who was throwing a cheeky party while their parents were away. When it happened again the following weekend I assumed it was a repeat. However, a few weekends later it was girls yelling, playing what I recognised to be the true hymn of the hen party, You Can Leave Your Hat On. Suddenly it made sense: I was living next door to a sublet playing host to hen parties and stag dos most weekends.

Ive had men wrestling on the floor outside my flat, someone trying to kick in my door, and fights that have left blood smears across the corridor walls. Id refrained from complaining to the building manager or letting agents and tried to deal with the host directly.

I had nothing against someone trying to make a little extra cash over the weekend. It was when it became clear the property was being entirely used for short-term rentals, and after my second phone call to the police, that I started complaining. I complained to the building manager, to my landlord, to the council. So far, nothing has been done.

Weekend sublets such as those offered on Airbnb and Booking.com have revolutionised holidays. But Im not the only person to have a bad experience. Paul, a teacher with a flat in Edinburgh, noticed people trundling by his apartment with luggage. Then he was kept awake by late-night noise. The irritation was that it was very difficult to get in touch with the owner via the Airbnb website. I had to pretend to be interested in renting it in order to send them a message, he says, and he claims that the problems have left people in negative equity.

If you want to hear a real Airbnb horror story, how about the one involving the riot police who were called to a flat in Brixton, south London, after 150 people arrived for a party that turned into chaos? In that case, reported in the Times in May, residents had apparently called the police on several occasions to break up parties in the flat, which had been let through the website. One complained that a partygoer landed with a crash on to his balcony from above and knocked on his window to get back in.

In the First-Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber), which handles disputes over property and land, the residents alleged that the Airbnb host had breached several terms in his lease agreement, and the tribunal judge agreed, saying the defendant appeared to be using the property as a guesthouse. Its the first known ruling against an Airbnb host by the tribunal but probably wont be the last.

Plenty more alarming tales can be found on AirbnbHell.com, a website dedicated to helping hosts and guests share their stories about the risks and dangers of using Airbnb.

Cal King, shows editor at TV channel Comedy Central, rents a flat in London next door to one that is empty quite a lot of the time, and then each weekend a different group of raucous people turn up and have parties. He is sanguine. In a way, I quite like knowing that even though theres pounding tropical house at 1am, chances are theyll be gone tomorrow.

Katie Gray, a barrister at Tanfield Chambers, says that in the first instance you should see if there can be anything done informally, for example by having a conversation with tenants or the host directly. If this does not work, she suggests you gather as much evidence as possible. Keep a diary of events, record the frequency of the lettings, and the dates and times of the nuisance.

airbnb
The legal avenues available to resolve disputes will depend on whether the property is leasehold or freehold. Photograph: John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images

The legal avenues available, should it come to this, will depend on whether the property is leasehold or freehold. For leasehold properties, owners or tenants will have to report the issue to the freeholder of the block, who will be the people able to take action.

In terms of longer nuisance sublets, local authorities may offer protection. For example, in London, stays longer than 90 days require previous planning permission.

If you are selling your property, things become a little tricky. You are required to complete a property information form disclosing any disputes or complaints about the properties or properties nearby. If you have been in a dispute about an Airbnb letting and you do not inform the buyer, you could be liable in court for misrepresentation and potentially be asked to pay damages to the buyer. In an extreme situation the sale will not go through.

Airbnb now has well over 1m properties and is active in 200 countries. One of the key features of the website is the review function: guests can review the properties they have stayed in, and hosts can review their guests. Though neighbours have, until recently, been left out in the cold.

Two weeks after the Brixton case emerged and was widely publicised, Airbnb launched an online tool for neighbours of its hosts who experience problems and want to make a complaint. The site reviews whether your complaint matches up with an active Airbnb listing, then messages the host. If problems persist, the website says it can suspend or remove them from Airbnb entirely. However, it is not clear if anyone has yet been banned. Airbnb says just one in 18,000 UK guest arrivals has prompted a complaint via the tool.

The overwhelming majority of Airbnb hosts and guests are good neighbours and respectful travellers, the company says. We want to do everything we can to help our community members be good neighbours.

In a recent blog, it pledged to treat each case seriously. Hosting is a big responsibility, it said, and those who repeatedly fail to meet our standards and expectations will be subject to suspension or removal from the Airbnb community.

The cities cracking down on Airbnb

The idea of Airbnb and other short-term lets as an alternative to over-priced hotels may soon be over, writes Patrick Collinson. Many cities have begun to introduce new rules, after residents complained about being overwhelmed by weekend visitors banging wheelie bags up stairs, breaching building security rules, and loud parties. Pressure has also come from hotel groups and local politicians who have lost revenue from hotel taxes.

Berlin
In June, a court upheld Berlins de facto ban on short-term rentals. People who let more than 50% of their apartment on a short-term basis without a permit risk a fine of 100,000 (85,000). City authorities were concerned that the availability of affordable housing was being severely threatened by the rise of short-term letting. Munich and Hamburg have also taken steps to curb
short-term lets.

San Francisco
The city that is home to Airbnbs HQ is also one of its fiercest opponents. Hosts have to register with the authorities; if Airbnb advertises an unregistered property it can be fined $1,000 (755) a day for each listing. An action group in the city has posted wanted flyers. The crime? Airbnbing our community and destroying affordable housing for immigrant, minority, and low income families.

New York
The citys rental laws ban apartments in buildings with three or more units from being rented out for less than 30 days. Landlords who flout the ban can be fined as much as $7,500. But home sharing where the host is present is legal. Critics say that short-term rental companies like Airbnb are flooding the citys housing market, reducing available housing stock citywide by 10%, according to a study released in June.

Barcelona

Barcelona

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figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> Barcelona is popular for Airbnb rentals. Photograph: kiko_jimenez/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Catalan city has been among the most aggressive in fighting Airbnb, slapping a 30,000 fine on the site for hosting illegal tourist lets in 2014. Flat owners have to list their apartments with the citys tourism register, obtain a licence and be responsible for collecting the daily 0.65 tourist tax.

Madrid
The Spanish capital set a minimum stay of five nights in private homes and apartments which, given the typical three-night stay on Airbnb, ruled out most rentals. But the directive was later overturned in court.

Reykjavik
The 1,600 short-term lets in Icelands capital have to operate under strict rules introduced in June. The legislation limits the number of days residents can offer rentals in their properties to 90 days a year before they must pay business tax.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/sep/17/airbnb-nuisance-neighbours-tribunal-ruling

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