Wired UKThis story originally appeared on WIRED UK.Airbnb doesn’t make its data available to officials and regulators, meaning local authorities have to use third-party tools to try and regulate the abuse of the platform. City Hall’s figures, compiled using analytics tool Inside Airbnb, also show that 30 percent of Airbnb hosts in London have three or more listings advertised on the platform. The rate of growth outside the center of the capital has been even more extreme, with Airbnb listings in outer London increasing fifteen-fold between 2015 and 2019. Across London, 56 percent of properties on Airbnb—or 45,070 listings—are entire homes.
In Camden and Westminster, two of the London boroughs worst affected by the rise of short-term rentals, up to seven percent of the total housing stock is advertised on Airbnb. Data compiled by Camden council reveals that of the 7,100 whole properties listed on platforms such as Airbnb and Booking.com in 2019, a staggering 48 percent exceeded the 90-day legal limit. Camden council currently has 6,000 families on its housing waiting list.“The short-term let market is far too easily exploited,” says Danny Beales, Camden Council’s cabinet member for investing in communities. “Not only are we seeing guests being let down, but so are London’s communities as new housing is built, bought up and essentially turned into hotels.”
Airbnb disputes these numbers. “This data is wrong,” a spokesperson for the company says, adding that third-party data scrapers are often inaccurate as they confuse different kinds of listings on its platform. The company’s own figures show that in April 2019 there were 60,000 listings in London. Of these, 37,000 were entire homes. Airbnb did not divulge its figure for the total number of London listings that exceeded the 90-day limit.The latest figures come after a WIRED investigation revealed the sheer scale of abuse taking place on Airbnb. Heather Acton, cabinet member for public protection and licensing at Westminster City Council, described the findings as “deeply disturbing”, adding it was now apparent that “short-term letting is out of control and occurring on an industrial scale”.
Our investigation found that one scam company was posting dozens of fake listings and fake reviews to game Airbnb’s systems and deceive local authorities. Guests complained of being tricked into staying in accommodation with blocked drains, broken fixtures and fittings, filthy floors, dirty bed linen—or, in some cases, accommodation that they simply did not book. To lower costs, scammers have started outsourcing their Airbnb property empires to call centers in the Philippines.
Those in the industry refer to it as “systemizing” Airbnb listings. And that systemization is being driven by the huge sums of money to be made. According to City Hall, properties in London listed on short-term rental sites rake in an average of £109 per night. Were they rented out to long-term tenants, they would make £58 per night.
In response to our findings, city officials are once again calling on the government to introduce legislation that would compel companies such as Airbnb and Booking.com to implement mandatory registers for short-term rentals. Such a system, they argue, would make it far easier to enforce the 90-day limit and crack down on scam hosts. “WIRED’s investigation—as shocking as it is—perfectly demonstrates each and every way that the current regulation can be disregarded without consequence,” says Beales. “We simply can’t allow for this level of exploitation to continue.” He adds that the creation of a short-term rental property register would allow the authorities to “properly enforce” the 90-day limit and bring much-needed housing stock back into residential use.