Special Housing Court Central Housing Group

Blow for Airbnb and short lets in landmark appeal ruling

A council has won a planning appeal banning the use of a property for short lets – considered a landmark case which may lead to widespread curbs on Airbnb-style lettings.

In July 2019 Oxford council issued a planning enforcement notice against the owner of a property being used as a short let. This followed a complaint from a local resident that they were experiencing anti-social behaviour and nuisance from the property.

The owner appealed to the Planning Inspectorate, which has now dismissed the appeal and required the owner to stop using it as a short let from this month.

The council is calling for short let landlords to apply for planning change of use before it takes action against other properties in the city. It is also calling for effective government regulation of the sector.

There has been a rapid increase in the number of short let properties in Oxford since the rise of websites like Airbnb and HomeAway.

The council claims the use of such websites to rent out entire properties for most of or all of the year has resulted in a loss of valuable family homes. It adds that in extreme cases, short lets have been used for illegal or anti-social purposes.

On a search of just one website in February there were nearly 1,500 short lets available in Oxford.

Prior to this new ruling, landlords only had to apply for planning permission when there was a ‘material change’ in the use of a property. Where a home is being used for short lets, this can be a matter of judgement based on the facts of the case.

This means councils are not automatically notified when entire homes become used for short lets. They must rely on complaints from members of the public, lengthy investigations and individual assessments on whether there has been such a change. However, Oxford council claims it is difficult to do this when there is a stream of different people using a property.

In spite of these difficulties, the council issued a planning enforcement notice against the owner of a property in question, after complaints from a local resident.

The council subsequently concluded the property was in breach of planning law as there had been no application for a material change of use.

Attempts to resolve this were unsuccessful and the council issued an enforcement notice against unauthorised use of the property in July last year.

The owner of the property appealed the notice to the Planning Inspectorate.

The council’s evidence included screenshots of 100 reviews from two short-let websites. A planning inspector also undertook a site visit in June.

On the balance of probabilities, the inspector agreed that “a largely transient pattern and frequency of occupation” indicated that the property was a short let rather than a normal dwelling house.

The Planning Inspectorate dismissed the appeal and upheld the council’s enforcement notice. The property in question can now no longer be used as a short let.

This is the first time Oxford council has taken action against a short let landlord in this way, and it is thought to be one of the first examples in the country. It says it is now considering similar action against other landlords who are operating unauthorised short lets throughout the year.

“I am really pleased that the Planning Inspectorate has found in our favour. However, it is frustrating that it has taken more than a year to stop antisocial behaviour at a single short let property” says a council spokesman.

“There are hundreds of short let properties in Oxford and almost none of them have planning permission. This means we have no record of which properties are short lets or any way of taking quick action against landlords.

“Short lets in Oxford have resulted in a loss of valuable family homes. In some extreme cases, short lets have been used for regular loud parties and even as brothels. This case shows that we do take the issue seriously and we will chase landlords through the legal system if necessary.”

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