RACHAEL MASKELL: We need much better controls on Airbnb’s ‘party houses’

Making laws is the ultimate goal of Parliament. This Friday, I have my own bill, a private member’s bill, on the licensing of short-term vacation rentals (“airbnbs”).

To get to this point, I applied for the private bill ballot, but only 20 names were drawn; not mine.

So I opted for a presentation bill, which meant competing for slots by sending an email shot at 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning last spring.

Sending it a second early would have meant disqualification, but with British Summer Time on my side I got one of the top spots.

I have accumulated support for my bill all year. This consisted of spending two days a week for five months on the Leveling Bill Committee, speaking at debates, asking questions, and meeting with ministers and the Secretary of State. Everyone knows I want to make sure the family streets of York come back to the residents.

We are now a group that wants to protect rural, coastal and urban communities.

We are concerned about villages carved out by vacation rental investors and second home owners, and urban streets turned into party streets.

Our common bond, however, is that far too many people in the region have nowhere to live.

In York, more than 2,000 properties have now been foreclosed by investors, depriving first-time buyers of any chance of climbing the housing ladder.

Worse still, those living in the private rental sector are being evicted from their homes to make way for groups of boys and girls to party on the once-quiet streets of York. Owners sit back and watch their profits rise, with some raking in over £2,000 a weekend.

Whether you can’t rent or buy because real estate costs rise as demand outstrips supply, whether you have an out-of-town son or daughter, or live next door to a ‘party house’ airbnb’, many people in York are affected by this unauthorized and unregulated trade

Businesses cannot recruit staff and our NHS and care sectors are suffering as there is nowhere for staff to live.

This exploitation of housing for personal gain takes homes away from those who desperately need them.

As it stands, unlike bed and breakfasts or hotels, short-term vacation rentals are unregulated.

They don’t need security certificates or energy efficiency measures, and homeowners don’t pay council tax because they get small business rate relief. No standards, no contribution, just profit.

Anyone looking for a home will also know that this is one of the reasons that property prices in York are so ridiculously high.

On the darker side, we hear anecdotally that in some places these properties are home to criminal activity, from modern day slavery to county borders. Lack of accountability is expensive.

Like so many other MPs who care about the homes of their constituents, I want these properties to be licensed, fully regulated and make a meaningful contribution to the community through local taxation.

My bill goes a step further by adopting the Scottish licensing model, allowing local authorities to set up control zones to limit the expansion of holiday rentals where housing is under pressure.

It would also give councils new powers to close short-term rentals that cause repeated nuisance to local residents and return those homes to families.

Housing campaign groups, from the Campaign to Rural England to Generation Rent and Action for Empty Homes, support my bill, seeing it as a solution to many of their members’ biggest concerns.

Due to archaic Westminster systems, I don’t know yet if I will get a full second reading. Being fourth of the day, three other bills will first have to be agreed upon. I lobbied hard on why he should get a full audience, so on Friday I’ll be ready to give a speech, whether it’s for ten minutes or two hours!

Whatever happens, all of these efforts have placed the issue firmly on the government’s desk. Something must be done.

The government has recognized the need as more than 350,000 properties across the UK are now used for holiday groups and not residents. They said they would act. They did a consultation over the summer, which I attended with 4,000 others.

The first signs indicate that they will now legislate – but not with a licensing system and a change of use to lock down “airbnbs” in every neighborhood.

Instead, they seek to appease industry lobbyists with a watered-down registration system. This will tell us where those places are, but won’t do much else. This horse has been bolted for a long time and licensing with control zones is the only way forward.

Once again, the government is out of touch amid the housing crisis. This will not be the solution.

I will continue to fight for you, our communities and our city. The system is broken. My bill will help fix it.

  • Rachael Maskell is the Labor MP for York Central

Comments are closed.