Council wins battle against illegal landlord

A Westminster City Council tenant has been ordered to pay over £100,000 after losing a court case against the Council.

Conservative-led Westminster City Council took legal action against a 37 year old man after it was discovered that he had been illegally renting his Council property on Vauxhall Bridge Road. Council tenants are not permitted to sub-let their property under the terms of their tenancy agreement.

The man was caught after his property was spotted by Council staff on short-term letting platform Airbnb. He was taken to court by the Conservative Council for flouting his tenancy agreement. After losing the original case last summer, he has now unsuccessfully appealed and handed down an Unlawful Profits Order (UPO) of £100,974.94 – one of the largest that Westminster City Council has ever received.

Westminster City Council has established a specialist team tasked with tackling abuses of short-term lettings, with an over 1,500 properties in Westminster under investigation. Although convenient for many, short-term lets in Westminster have led to incidences of anti-social behaviour, noise pollution and fly-tipping. The practice also reduces the number of properties available to those wanting to permanently settle in the City. This has been worsened by a number of landlords breaching the 90 day legal limit for short-letting a property in Westminster.

To minimise these issues the Council is pressuring the Government to introduce a compulsory cross-platform registration scheme for property owners who want to short let their property. Westminster believes that this would ensure councils know which properties are being let and for how long, allowing their use and its impact to be appropriately monitored and the law enforced.

On the case and short-term lets in general, Cllr Andrew Smith, Westminster City Council Cabinet Member for Housing Services, explains:

“Social housing is there to provide much-needed homes for our residents, not to generate illicit profits for dishonest tenants. It’s illegal for council tenants to sublet their homes and we carry out tenancy checks, as well as monitoring short-term letting websites for any potential illegal sublets.

“Along with a six-figure unlawful profit order by getting a possesng sion order, we can now reallocate the property to someone in genuine need of a home.

“We’re also pressing Government to introduce a national registration scheme to make it far easier for us to take action against anyone who breaks the rules on short term letting.”

Member of Parliament for the Cities of London & Westminster, Mark Field MP, added:

“As a long-standing supporter of tighter rules around short-term lettings in central London, this kind of tough action against those found abusing the system is exactly what we need to see more of.

The explosion in short-term lettings has been an intolerable blight on so many neighbourhoods and apartment blocks throughout the city, and today’s news sends an uncompromising message to anyone who thinks that they can casually flout the law and get away with it.

I congratulate the Council for their excellent work on this particular case, and their continued efforts on the abuse of short-term lettings more broadly.

With the new government now in place, I look forward to working with the new communities secretary to implement a compulsory, industry-wide register of short let properties that will help local authorities to track, catch and punish those breaking the 90-day-per-year letting limit.”    

In 2018 alone, the efforts of the Conservative Council resulted in 24 social housing properties being successfully recovered from those illegally subletting. These properties will be reallocated to residents in need of a home.