- Homes let through Airbnb are being turned into ‘pop-up’ brothels, MoS reveals
- Estimated 120,000 flats and houses in UK are unlawfully sub-let through the site
- Tenants can make a fortune sub-letting, with some charging three times the rent
- Italian party girl Natali Rossi funded jet-set lifestyle sub-letting 12 London homes
Property rental site Airbnb is blighting thousands of lives in Britain’s towns and cities, a Mail on Sunday investigation has found.
Homes let through the US-based online service are, increasingly, being turned into ‘pop-up’ brothels and used for huge parties, likened by police to unlicensed raves.
It is now estimated that more than 120,000 flats and houses in the UK are unlawfully sub-let through the site, and others like it, often without the owners knowing.
Tenants can make a fortune, with some charging three times what they pay in rent.
In one shocking example, reporters exposed a London-based Italian woman, named Natali Rossi, who funds a jet-set lifestyle renting out 12 properties through Airbnb – none of which she appears to own.
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Earned thousands: Natalie Rossi in an Instagram pose. During a meeting to hand over keys, Rossi bragged she was earning three times as much money from wealthy Saudi guests at her properties in Knightsbridge
Natali Rossi at the Maida Vale flat, above. Ms Rossi, who had 142 reviews on the site, said she had owned the £625,000 Maida Vale flat for five years
Across the country residents spoke of how anti-social behaviour and a constant flow of anonymous visitors had degraded their quality of life and the character of communities.
All-night parties have caused ‘misery’ in one area of East London, for instance, while in Edinburgh the online service has been branded ‘a plague’.
And 90 residents of an exclusive apartment block in Cardiff Bay joined forces to demand that the council ban Airbnb after enduring a series of disorderly parties.
Airbnb transformed the tourism industry when it was set up in 2008 to allow homeowners to let spare rooms or entire properties for short periods. Hosts advertise their property with pictures, guests pay them per night and the website takes a fee from both.
But we discovered that the system is being abused and exploited on a major scale.
Last night, MPs demanded action to prevent illegal sub-letting and said Airbnb owners should be licensed. Only hosts with licences would then be allowed to advertise properties on the site.
Similar schemes have been adopted in New York, Barcelona, Berlin and San Francisco to combat the problem.
Airbnb insist anti-social behaviour is extremely rare and say the vast majority of guests act respectfully. But our investigation found:
- Airbnb was warned about a woman operating a sub-letting scam, but allowed her to continue raking in thousands;
- Prostitutes use Airbnb properties because they are more discreet than hotels and brothels;
- A social housing flat in an area with a chronic shortage of accommodation was sub-let 119 times in just three years;
- More than 100 apartments in an upmarket block in Central London are thought to have been unlawfully let, causing misery for residents.
Westminster North MP Karen Buck said: ‘Airbnb is not what it was originally conceived for – there has been a massive shift in the model.
‘It is no longer used by people who rent out their homes while on holiday. People are letting all the year round.
‘There are areas where people tell me that they are now living in a branch of the hospitality industry, not a residential area.
‘People use it for brothels and parties, and local communities are suffering all the turmoil that brings: lack of security, noise, nuisance, parties, rubbish.
Fraud: One of Natali Rossi’s Airbnb listings for a flat she was sub-letting
‘Properties that could provide homes for people are being removed from the rental stock because much more money can be made from short-term lets.’
The Mail on Sunday discovered Italian-born Natali Rossi, 37, advertising expensive properties in Central London through Airbnb without the permission of owners.
When the owner of a £1.5 million Soho apartment she sub-let found out, he repeatedly wrote to the site – but Airbnb claimed there was nothing it could do. Rossi had posed as a £120,000-a-year cancer specialist and falsified references to rent the £800-a-week flat. After signing the tenancy agreement, she immediately began sub-letting it for £600-a-night. Soon there were reports of drug-fuelled parties, which got so bad that a neighbour was forced to move out.
In October, Rossi was arrested at the flat and cautioned after admitting fraud by false representation. Afterwards, to the fury of the owner, she continued sub-letting the property, with Airbnb seemingly powerless to stop her.
She told an undercover MoS reporter, who rented a room in another flat she rents in Maida Vale, West London – one of 12 properties she lists on the site – that she earns a fortune and boasted of overcharging super-rich Arabs. The sub-letting problem is most severe in Central London where Westminster council is investigating 1,383 questionable short-term lets. Our research found that a one-bedroom flat in the area will rent for £495-a-week on an ordinary tenancy, but £1,561-a-week on a nightly basis.
How Airbnb works… and how scammers exploit it
Homeowners who are away or who have a holiday home, register on Airbnb to let out all or some of their property for a few days at a time.
‘Hosts’ post details, pictures and the nightly price. ‘Guests’ create a profile to book. Airbnb takes a fee from both parties.
Airbnb doesn’t check property ownership so scammers rent from a landlord then sub-let on Airbnb, posing as the owner.
In one apartment block, Park West near Hyde Park, the council believes 106 of the 530 flats are being used illegally. Westminster said it has received reports of sex workers occupying the apartments. Others are frequently used by overseas medical ‘tourists’ to recuperate after operations.
The block is in the constituency of MP Mark Field, who said: ‘Concerns around security, safety, increases in crime and the loss of a sense of local community are recurring themes in my postbag from constituents.
‘The frequent, in some cases constant, turnover of guests leaves residents not knowing their neighbours, uncertain as to who is in the building and what they are using the properties for.’
In East London, residents described how their lives have been made a misery by all-night drug-fuelled parties in a four-bedroom house listed on Airbnb.
Neighbour Abigail Darling, 47, said of one party: ‘It was very intimidating. The atmosphere was such that I really didn’t fancy asking them to turn the music down and my kids were petrified of me going outside.
‘I’ve checked the booking websites and it seems the place is booked out for New Year’s Eve, which fills me with dread already.’
This house, in Victoria Park, Hackney, was let by one of many agencies specifically set up to capitalise on the Airbnb boom. Often they have dozens of properties on their books and manage everything from key exchange to bedding provision on behalf of owners.
Residents in Edinburgh city centre’s historic Grassmarket district say Airbnb has become synonymous with anti-social behaviour.
Nick Cumming who lives in a studio flat there, said: ‘We have 20 flats in this building and eight are on Airbnb. It’s a plague and it changes the city centre. It wasn’t like that when I moved here 12 years ago. Now it’s just constant noise.’
Airbnb users often share their experiences of city centre apartments online. One guest said he rented a room in an apartment in Central London only to find the other two bedrooms being used by prostitutes.
Councils in Liverpool, Oxford, Brighton and Edinburgh have all looked at ways of curtailing Airbnb activity in their cities with no success. Laura Robertson-Collins, a Liverpool councillor, said her once-peaceful area is now often ‘shattered by noise, mess, and parking from visitors who have no respect for community’.
Property rental site Airbnb is blighting thousands of lives in Britain’s towns and cities, a Mail on Sunday investigation has found
She added: ‘There have been some terrible examples of parties that are near riots here due to Airbnb-type renting.’
In London, hosts are restricted to renting out their homes for a maximum of 90 days a year, but the rule is difficult to enforce.
Data from research website Inside Airbnb claims that 8,775 properties in London may be breaching the 90 day-limit.
Our investigation turned up one home in London that had been reviewed 119 times in the past year, which suggests it has been rented for more than 90 days during that time.
Lawyer Giles Peaker, who specialises in evicting sub-letting tenants, said Airbnb is turning a blind eye to the problem.
‘The trouble is, the way Airbnb is being used is not how it was envisaged – it used to be about letting out a spare room over the weekend. Now whole properties are being let out all year round.
‘Airbnb doesn’t even share its data with councils, so how are councils expected to enforce the 90-day limit?Airbnb rental precautions help for a safe vacation
‘Large, noisy groups, people traipsing in and out at all hours, constant noise of wheelie bags – a lot of the time these are expensive blocks. The system should be licensed. This would mean the council could crack down on anyone renting without permission.’
This newspaper found one letting company, Veeve, with 1,086 properties on its site.
At first glance, the listings looked like they had been set up by individuals. But guests have left reviews complaining they were not aware that the properties were actually being let by a company.
A spokesman for Veeve said: ‘We have pushed for Airbnb to enable property managers to advertise their brand names and logos on their listings, and this is something they are starting to roll out now.
‘Historically this has caused some confusion for guests on their platform.’
According to data from the Residential Landlords Association (RLA), seven per cent of its members have had properties unlawfully sub-let on websites such as Airbnb.
Westminster North MP Karen Buck said: ‘Airbnb is not what it was originally conceived for – there has been a massive shift in the model’
That suggests as many as 122,500 properties are being sub-let. It is not known how many of these are advertised on sites such as Airbnb, but experts say it has become the ‘destination of choice’ for listing short-term lets.
David Smith, policy director at RLA, said: ‘Airbnb is not doing anywhere near enough to stop problems associated with its business, such as damage to properties and noisy neighbours. In other countries the company has been forced to regulate its site – with measures such as limits on the numbers of properties and forcing them to share data with the council – but we have none of that in the UK.
‘Perversely, there are tax incentives available if you put your property on the site that aren’t available as a standard buy-to-let landlord.’
An Airbnb spokesman said: ‘These claims are utterly false and use inaccurate data to make misleading assumptions about hosts on Airbnb.
‘Airbnb is the only platform to help hosts follow the rules in London and has long been the industry leader in developing clear homesharing rules.
‘We have worked with over 500 governments around the world to help families share their homes and ensure hosting grows responsibly and sustainably.
‘The vast majority of entire homes in London on Airbnb (96 per cent) are shared for 90 nights or fewer, and those that go over include traditional B&Bs, hotels, and those that have permission to rent for longer.
‘The typical host is making £2,600 per year by sharing their home for fewer than four nights per month, meanwhile over 40,000 listings on other platforms go uncapped.’