Airbnb to help London council catch social housing sub-letters

Airbnb is to work with a west London council to stop social housing tenants illegally subletting homes on the site.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) believes some of its tenants may use Airbnb to rent their properties to tourists for a profit.

The short-term holiday home rental site is to share payment data with the authority, to be used in prosecutions.

If it is successful, the method could be used by other authorities in London to tackle housing fraud, RBKC said.

The collaboration between Airbnb and RBKC will initially be trialled for two estates in North Kensington, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The council, which has 3,000 families on its housing list, said it hoped the scheme would free up homes for those in need of housing.

“There is a huge demand for social housing in our borough and it’s simply not fair that people in genuine need are being denied a place to call home because others are illegally subletting their council properties to make money,” said Kim Taylor-Smith, lead member for housing at RBKC.

“Tenancy fraud is not a victimless crime. It costs the public purse an average of £42,000 a year for each home and this welcome collaboration with Airbnb will help us to clamp down on it in our borough.”

Due to data protection laws, RBKC was required to obtain a court order so it could access Airbnb customers’ information.

Airbnb said subletting social housing had “no place” on the site and “we want to work with councils to remove social housing”.

However, it criticised the current system where a court order was required in order to avoid breaking GDPR rules as being “complex and costly”.

A rise in the number of London homes being rented out as short-term holiday lets in recent years has led to concerns about the wider impact on housing stock and affordability.

Local authorities in the capital have warned it has inflated rent prices for long-term tenants.

In 2015, the Institute for Public Policy Research found some landlords had taken their homes off the rental market and were renting them out solely as holiday lets.

In 2016, Airbnb banned hosts in London from renting out properties on short-term lets for more than 90 days a year.