The impact of Airbnb on rental markets

The number of people renting out a rooms or part of their house/ apartment on Airbnb keeps doubling every year – an incredible rate of growth. Some have even argued that the immense popularity of the service, and the fact that more commercial operators are getting in on the act by buying up properties to let to short term visitors, are driving up rents for ordinary residents.

In tourist destinations like London, where private rental rates are already very high, more and more families are already finding it hard to keep up with the increase in rents. People on the edge of the rental market are finding it harder still – and these are the very groups of people that we at Commonweal are working to develop housing for, be they care leavers, former street homeless, women in the criminal justice system, young adult carers or destitute migrants.

I decided to find out first hand as both a ‘guest’ and ‘host’ what it would be like to experience Airbnb as a form of accommodation like a tourist hotel, and as a privately rented property. The former was a lot easier to research than the latter!

My recently widowed mother was coming for Christmas. Our apartment is off limits to her due to her mobility requirements. We had to find alternative affordable accommodation, as we don’t have a lift. I plumped for Airbnb, for convenience and price.

First I set about creating an airbnb online profile. Then I checked for suitable, ground floor accessible self-contained studio properties and kept to around £50 a night. An administration fee for Airbnb and a cleaning fee are usually on top of the daily rental fee.  For a 1 bed studio that would cost £350 per week (often accommodation booked for a week or longer receives up to a 15% discount) or £1400 pcm. I found a suitable studio in no time, after an online conversation with the host and was even able to view it, before committing to pay the full rental cost for the duration of my mother’s stay 2 months in advance.

With Christmas underway, the main feature to note was the quality of the accommodation. Airbnb do not operate an official licensing system to assure quality of the rooms/ apartments on. Instead they rely on the relationships of, trust and expectation that the guest and host offer each other. Also the peer review/rate system currently prevails. It turned out to be a ‘Horses for Courses’ experience, where the heating was not adequate and vermin control questionable but the property was in general kitted out for modern living.

A few weeks before Christmas, a friend of mine whom operates in the PRS sector experienced firsthand what it feels like to discover one of their tenants subletting to airbnb guests, for a week long birthday celebration. Luckily the ‘guests’ had only arrived the day before and were hastily re-accommodated. Airbnb currently have a £600,000.00 host guarantee, but expect any damages caused by the guest to be first resolved between host and guest if possible, before contacting the airbnb resolution centre.

A year later, my friend although apprehensive from the previous year’s experience with tenants subletting to airbnb, was thinking of letting out a few properties on airbnb, to dent his void losses due to the very slow private rental market last autumn (as a result of the referendum result). He even got as far as creating a ‘host’ profile. Luckily his managing agent found non airbnb tenants willing to sign up for 4 month leases, which meant his experience as a airbnb landlord was over for the time being.

In conclusion, airbnb serves a purpose for various people; from those seeking out a less expensive very short term housing solution namely holiday accommodation and short tenancies, to the property owners who have void properties to fill and those who would like an additional income. It clearly is not an option for JAMs or the client groups of our project partners simply due to affordability and suitability. Most of the service users of our partners require a sustained tenancy at an affordable price.

– Jasmine Tiwari

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