Airbnb is allowing professional landlords to operate what are effectively "hotels in all but name" and as a result is putting members of the public in danger, a House of Commons committee has been told.
Speaking at the Business Innovation and Skills Committee's investigation into the digital economy, Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association (BHA), said that some landlords were using home exchange websites such as Airbnb to operate on an industrial scale, outside of UK tax, food, health and fire-safety regulations.
In particular, she highlighted one individual who promoted 50 properties, which are all identically furnished, on Airbnb, without complying to any of the regulations that hotels have to adhere to.
Ibrahim also told the committee that 40% of all home-exchange website listings are run by professional landlords, the top 1000 home-exchange hosts are netting £150m of accommodation revenue annually, and half of all listings are entire properties rather than rooms in host's own homes.
In addition to the flouting of health and safety regulation, Ibrahim said that the digital sharing economy resulted in increased noise and crime, as well as the pushing up of long-term rents and property prices. The negative aspects of the likes of Airbnb could have damaging impacts on "the UK's trusted reputation as a high-quality and safe tourist destination", she added.
Patrick Robinson, head of public policy in Europe, Middle East and Africa, Airbnb, said that the majority of the site's operators rented out space in their homes to generate extra income. "An average operator earns around £2,000 per year for renting out rooms for around 46 nights a year," he said. In London, the average operators earns £3,500 per annum across 50 nights, he added.
Robinson told the committee that it was not Airbnb's responsibility to ensure that the owners of properties complied to any kind of safety regulations, a situation that Ibrahim described as "very concerning".
The committee heard that the BHA proposed the introduction of three regulations that home exchange websites should adhere to in order to put them on an even playing field with the wider hospitality industry. They include a requirement for the websites to share with the necessary authorities data to show the number of people letting out a secondary residence, how much tax is due on income and the number of staff involved in renting out multiple properties; a restriction on landlord renting out properties for more than 90 days; and stricter checks on safety and security.
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