View of Westminster City Hall at 64 Victoria Street.
Westminster City Hall. The council wants the government to introduce a registration scheme and return to pre-2015 planning policy to regulate short-term letting. Photo: Fitzrovia News.

Westminster Council has renewed its call to government to give it the power to regulate short-term letting, after the number of properties being used as holiday rentals continues to rise, causing an increase in complaints from residents and limiting the numbers of homes available to rent.

The council now estimates there are around 12,000 short-term lets in Westminster — more than any other London borough.

Westminster says it receives 28 complaints each week about people using short-term lets, and currently has 500 investigations ongoing.

“A fifth of these investigations relate to breaches of the 90-night limit residential properties can be used for short-term letting, and the rest being enforcement notices against noise, littering and antisocial behaviour,” says the council.

The council has been calling on the government to give it more power to tackle the nuisance and also to protect the availability and affordability of rented homes for local people.

“Our residents are tired of interrupted sleep, mess, and in many cases, antisocial behaviour and crime caused by visitors who are in the city for a night or two,” said Councillor Adam Hug, leader of Westminster Council, in a statement on Monday.

The council says that Michael Gove, secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities must, as a matter of urgency, introduce a mandatory scheme which would see all properties registered before being used for short-term letting.

This would give all councils the power to take action against those rogue landlords who allow fly tipping, and the noise and disruption that is blighting the lives of neighbours. 

However, a registration scheme will not stop homes being lost to the short-term let market and new plans by the government will further reduce the availability of permanent housing.

“We have serious concerns about the proposals set out in the consultation on a new planning use class for short-term lets,” wrote Hug in a letter to the secretary of state in June.

“The creation of a new use class and the automatic regularisation of residential properties as short-term letting would have a catastrophic and permanent effect on the number of homes available.”

This could mean that in the City of Westminster 12,000 homes would be removed from the residential market.

Westminster Council now wants a return to the pre-2015 position in London which
categorises any use of residential dwellings for short-term letting as a material change of use, and therefore requires planning permission.

The purpose behind the pre-2015 legislation — which did not apply to the rest of the country — was to protect London’s existing housing supply, for the benefit of permanent residents, by giving London boroughs greater and easier means of planning control to prevent the conversion of family homes into short-term lets.

That pre-2015 planning policy in London, says the council, should in addition now be extended to the rest of the country as short-term letting has also had a devastating effect on the availability of permanent housing nationwide due to the runaway success of online booking platforms.

“We are calling on the government to go beyond a registration scheme and return to pre-2015 planning policy. This would give us and other local authorities the tools to regulate short-term letting where it causes the most harm and misery to our residents,” says Hug.

As well as reducing the supply of housing, short-term letting has an unfair competitive advantage over the established hotel businesses.

“The rise of short-term lets has created an uneven playing field for many of Westminster’s hospitality firms, where traditional providers pay business rates, corporation tax and comply with regulations, in stark contrast to the small business exemptions enjoyed by short-term lets,” says Hug.

The government is in the process of legislating for a short-term letting registration scheme through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act, which came into law in October.

Responses to the consultation held earlier this year will shape how a registration scheme will operate, and further legislation by the secretary of state will be required to enable the scheme to become operational.

Westminster City Council: Better regulation of short-term lets.