Short shrift for short term lets

By Cllr Suzanne Richards (@CllrSuzanne)



Along with most other cities in the UK, Manchester has seen a rapid growth in short-term lets (AirBnB being one of the most common) from virtually no listings in 2013 to over 2,600 listings in 2019.


Only last week, Amsterdam, Barcelona, ​​Berlin, Bordeaux, Brussels, Krakow, Munich, Paris, Valencia and Vienna called for the “explosive growth” of global short-stay lettings platforms to be put on the agenda of the next set of European commissioners meeting.


In its original form, where homeowners are able to benefit from a new source of income whilst presenting holidaymakers and business travellers with an affordable and comfortable alternative to hotels and hostels, short term lettings can function well within a city.


What is worrying however is the growth in whole-home, year-round short-term lets, which act to reduce the amount of much-needed family houses, along with the rise of some commercial operators who have little regard for safety, anti-social behaviour and the environmental blight they are creating for residents in the city.


Many of us Councillors have heard first hand accounts from residents of the impact of short-term lettings in their apartment blocks and neighbourhoods. From 200 people turning up to a party in Levenshulme to naked inebriated tennants running riot in city centre apartments, we need the resources and powers to respond and protect our residents.


As a result of these rising concerns Cllr Pat Karney, Manchester’s City Centre spokesperson and I, along with a small taskforce of Councillors and officers, are exploring what Manchester can do to protect family housing and safeguard our residents from the worst impacts of short term lettings.


Unlike London-based local authorities, where powers over how housing is used is different, current legislation does not require building-owners and property-owners to inform Councils outside of the capital of their intention to use their property for short-term lets.


This creates a huge challenge when trying to tackle the more negative end of the sector as we’ve had to start from scratch to find out which properties are likely being used in a problematic way.


Working proactively, our Council compliance team are currently building a database of short-term lets in the city centre.  They are doing this through intelligence received from the public and complaints received to build up a more accurate picture, and as part of this work we are also working with managing agents and property owners to tackle some of the most prevalent issues.


We have had positive engagement with the UK Short Term Accommodation Association and we are currently working with them on a Manchester Standard for Short Term lettings, which will engage with and support responsible homeowners and commercial operators in the city.


At the same time however we are considering a number of steps to safeguard family housing in the city. We have already had some success in Brunswick in challenging new family housing which has been listed on short-term letting platforms.


To protect family homes in the area, covenants are built into the leaseholds and background checks carried out that ensure properties are not lost to investors and help the community of residents continue to grow. When leases are passed on to new holders, the covenants go with them to protect the neighbourhood into the future.


Some early success has seen several injunctions have been applied to property owners who have been found subletting their homes, with more than £2,000 court costs assigned to owners found in breach of their lease.


Neighbourhood officers also work closely within the community to provide advice to property owners to ensure they understand the principles of their agreement, and have then rectified issues around subletting without need for further action.


We will be taking the lessons learned from Brunswick and seeking to apply these on future council land sales and developments across the city by inserting the relevant clauses in our freehold and leasehold agreements.


In order for this to have maximum impact though we will also need to work in partnership with our Registered Social Landlords and use our influence with private developers across the city.


Ultimately however, if the Government doesn't provide us with the necessary powers to enable us to regulate what is a rapidly growing sector, we are fighting an uphill battle.


Core Cities in the UK need to have at least the same devolved powers as Greater London (i.e. the ability to restrict short term letting of entire homes to 90 days) and consideration needs to be given to a potential licensing regime for short-term letting, akin to what is already in operation in Northern Ireland.


In the meantime, we are keen for residents to continue to work with us and highlight any issues they are experiencing related to short-term lettings across the city. The more information we have on the operation of short-term lettings and their impact across the city, the stronger our case will be for further powers.


9 July 2019


Suzanne Richards is a Councillor for Longsight and an Executive Member for Housing and Regeneration.


Image from Manchester Evening News