The Airbnb revolution is here, and it ain’t pretty

Thanks to new guidelines announced by ministers this week, Londoners will soon be able to rent out their homes for periods of up to three months per year. The government hopes that an Airbnb-inspired “sharing economy” will encourage tourists to visit the capital, and spend their stay living like a local. While renting out a room or property for three months or less is currently illegal under the Greater London Council Act 1973, the Deregulation Bill will soon change that.

“London is one of the world’s top holiday destinations,” says housing minister Brandon Lewis. “Draconian rules dating back 40 years prevent the capital’s homeowners from renting their properties to tourists. That’s why I want to change the law, and free Londoners up to rent their homes.”

There has already been a backlash against the proposed amendment to the law from concerned citizens who worry that their streets and apartment buildings will be transformed from residential havens to noisy party spots or filthy student hostels. According to the Evening Standard, at least eight boroughs are up in arms over the prospect of being invaded by techno-pumping continentals on drug-fuelled clubbing weekends.

Prospective Airbnb hosts stand to earn up to £2,800 over a 33 day period, making short-term lets an extremely attractive proposition. But landlords need to be aware of the risks involved. Any homeowner will tell you that managing lets can be a tricky business, and, generally speaking, short-term tenants are significantly less conscientious when it comes to the state in which they leave their temporary home. In my experience, property’s overall care, and the tenant’s emotional investment in its appearance and upkeep, tend to be inversely proportional to the duration of the tenancy.

Sure, the majority of Airbnb rentals go swimmingly. But there are plenty of horror stories out there that should make prospective landlords wonder if it’s really worth the hassle. Airbnb host Troy Dayton certainly found himself thinking twice, after finding “meth pipes everywhere” and “axe-holes in the walls” in his apartment. And comedian Ari Tenman famously discovered that his home had been used as the set of a “big beautiful women”-themed hardcore porn production by a tenant who originally claimed to be in town for a family wedding.

There have even been tales of apparently kosher renters turning into nightmare squatters who refuse to leave, and then act threateningly towards the rightful owner of the property. Finally, there are the “temporary brothels” which have popped up in Sweden, Britain and the United States, perhaps inspired by the success of pop-ups in the restaurant industry.

But, like I said, short term rentals can and do go perfectly smoothly most of the time.

Ultimately, letting out your home is a personal choice. I would advise would-be hosts in London considering taking advantage of this new opportunity to exercise great care when selecting their short-term tenants. And it would be good to hear from the government and London bureaucrats how they intend to prevent and police the inevitable disasters.

George Spencer is CEO of Rentify.