In part two, Andrea Sandor asks how Airbnb is hurting Manchester and what’s being done about it.
In Part 1, I discovered a considerable number of entire homes are being let on Airbnb. In the two city centre wards this figure is as high as 71% of Airbnb lets, with 56% of hosts having multiple listings.
This is a problem for various reasons.
I’ll let Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central, explain:
“There is a national housing crisis which hits places like Manchester hard - with supply struggling to keep up with demand, a reducing social housing stock and private rents increasingly unaffordable to people. It is in that context that I am concerned about residential accommodation finding its way onto the market as short term lets.”
Local authorities do not currently have the powers or resources needed to manage this or protect residents
There’s also a concerning lack of regulation, which Powell says is “woefully behind the times and legislation needs to catch up.”
For one, hosts aren’t paying business rates. They also aren’t required to follow fire, safety or waste regulations.
Earlier this year, the BBC profiled the lack of fire safety regulations in the short-term let sector, in which the B&B Association said there was a “total and utter lack of enforcement.”
The most dramatic example is perhaps when a balcony of Airbnb renters collapsed in Brighton in 2016; two broke their backs and one was impaled. It’s still not clear who was responsible: Airbnb, the host, the insurer of the building? According to a recent report in Brighton and Hove News, no investigation took place due to the lack of regulation in the sector.
But surely there must be some controls? Renting out an entire flat on Airbnb must constitute a material change of use that would submit it to business rates and different planning permission? Nope. Only if it offers “hotel or hostel facilities”, according to Cllr Suzanne Richards, Executive Member of Housing and Regeneration.
However, Richards also tells me via email: “We are committed to preparing a detailed strategy for private rented housing in the city by March next year and will be exploring the impact of Air BnB as part of that.”
So it’s on the Council’s radar - but is Manchester late to the game?
Cllr Sam Wheeler of Piccadilly Ward believes Airbnb became an issue very quickly in Manchester, and the Council are working towards addressing it. However, he needs help from residents. Specifically, he wants residents to complain about problems being caused by short-term lets.
“If I go to the Council every week with ten to twenty complaints, it’ll be easier for them to do something about it than to keep ignoring me,” he says.
Lucy Powell is also on the case. So far, however, her efforts have been frustrated. “I have been in touch with the Council and central Government a number of times about this issue and both have led me to the conclusion that local authorities do not currently have the powers or resources needed to manage this growing market and to protect residents.”
Powell wrote to Home Secretary Sajid Javid with her concerns. In regards to issues around anti-social behaviour, he referenced Section 79 of the Environment Protection Act 1990, giving local authorities powers to prevent disturbance, as well as the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act that requires landlords to deal with nuisance.
However, according to Wheeler, the Council doesn’t have the resources necessary to enforce either Act. “We need inspection staff, waste management staff, neighbourhood officers, policing to enforce this. We don’t have it.”
Javid also acknowledged London’s 90-night limit for short-term lets which he says was introduced due to the limited supply of private rented accommodation. However, he said there are no plans to introduce similar measures across England.
Instead, Javid pointed Powell towards the Short Term Accommodation Association and its work towards developing a voluntary code of conduct.
Powell tells me: “I am very keen to explore this in the absence of adequate regulation but I am sceptical that the issues can be resolved by voluntary agreement alone.”
It seems to me the only people who would sign up to this voluntary code aren’t the sorts of people causing the problem.
Cllr Wheeler is also concerned about the tower blocks currently being built throughout the city. While these are meant to be residential, he says “The only way to make money for the investor is through short-term rentals. A three bed apartment on the 20th or 30th floor is very attractive to weekend or overseas visitors.”
I have reason to agree with him. When I asked Salboy Director Simon Ismail at a public consultation whether the Back Turner St tower they’re proposing will be marketed to overseas investors - like their CituNQ on Tib St - his response was telling.
“What people don’t understand is if you take away overseas investment, 80% of the cranes in Manchester go away.”
In other words: Yes, yes they will be marketed to overseas investors.
Wheeler believes the Council needs to be firmer with developers, levelling penalties on those who don’t enforce policies restricting short-term lets. Wheeler calls Airbnb an “extractive operation” and questions the kind of tourism it brings into the city.
Some argue that Airbnb is good for the economy. However, the businesses benefiting from a tourist aren’t necessarily the same as those benefiting from a long-term resident. The economic argument isn’t completely wrong, but it’s also not that simple.
Powell is working with other MP’s to lobby government. Wheeler is exploring how developers could be held accountable for not enforcing restrictions around short-term lets. Richards is developing a detailed strategy for private rented housing.
It’s on the radar, but there may be little they can do as long as central government keeps their hands tied.
So here’s what I’ve learned from researching this article. Supporting regulation of the short-term letting sector doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to use Airbnb. The Silicon Valley startup isn’t going anywhere. And that’s precisely why we need to keep in mind the bigger picture and make sure it works for our neighbourhoods and cities.
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