Protecting landlords from subletting on Airbnb

There has been several articles and letters in the Times recently concerning the problems that the growth of Airbnb has spawned, but one aspect has received very little attention and that is the inability of the legal system to cope with the problems caused to landlords whose flats are rented by “hosts” who then relet the flat through Airbnb in contravention of the terms of the agreement that they have signed.

We manage a large portfolio of middle to upper market flats in central London that we have bought on behalf of investors, mainly living abroad. As a result the agency has received many requests to let some of these flats in this way. WE discourage these tenancies as it can cause serious problems with lenders, superior landlords and of course other occupants of the building where the flat is located.

Despite stringent checks on prospective tenants some of these would be “hosts” do manage to take a flat and the process of evicting them is painfully expensive and long winded. It can often take 6 to 8 months to get a court hearing and a further six to eight weeks to have a bailiff evict a recalcitrant  “host” if they are determined to stay. This process usually costs the landlord thousands of pounds in legal fees, which of course they will have very little chance of recouping from the tenant. To add insult to injury the “host” often stops paying his rent, which in any event the landlord may not be able to collect once a notice for possession is issued. In extreme cases  the landlord may face a claim for forfeiture of the property.

The legal system seems unable to cope with this problem and Airbnb, when contacted, by us to ask them to take the property down from the website are less than helpful and despite their bland assurances seem to take very little interest in complaints.

It seems to us that the only safeguard we can offer our clients is to be extremely strict on references and background checks which make us seem rigid and inflexible to the vast majority of applicants. These people merely want to rent a property with as little fuss and bother as possible and  occasionally we lose a good tenant due to this  policy which is a great pity but given the potential problems it is a price that we have to accept.

It is unlikely that the legal system will become any more efficient in the near future, it seems reasonable to us, that given the image that they seek to portray, and the now well documented problems that can arise, Airbnb should carry out a check with the Land Registry to see that their hosts have the legal right to offer the property they are putting on their website.

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