As Airbnb listings in London soar to 80,000, up 400% from 2015 figures, Westminster Council is cracking down on those who use the site to unlawfully sublet social housing, with over 1,500 investigations underway.
The council recovered £100,974 from a Toby Harman, a social housing tenant who had been unlawfully letting his flat on Airbnb since 2013. He has also been evicted so the flat can be let to someone in genuine need.
Last year, the council recovered 24 homes from unlawful sub-letters.
Subletting social housing was made an offence in the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013. It is a crime to sublet secure or assured tenancies with local authorities or other registered social housing providers.
A tenant (with a secure or assured tenancy) commits an offence if –
- he or she sub-lets the whole, or sometimes part, of the dwelling,
- the tenant ceases to occupy the dwelling as his or her only or principal home, and
- the tenant knows he or she is acting in breach of the tenancy.
A different, more serious offence is committed if you act dishonestly.
The law says that it is a defence if the sub-letting takes place as a result of violence or threats toward certain people. A further defence may arise if the person then occupying the house is entitled to apply to the court for a right to occupy or to have the tenancy transferred.
A person convicted of one of these offences is liable to a fine and, if they act dishonestly, could face six months in prison.
They are also liable to a new type of order introduced in the Act, an Unlawful Profit Order.
The making of one of these orders is how Westminster Council were able to recover the money from Toby Harman.
Under this power, the court must consider making an order that the defendant repays any profit to the landlord.
The maximum amount payable under an Unlawful Profit Order is the illicit amount received by the offender minus any rent paid to the landlord. The court may make an order for payment of any amount up to that ceiling, depending on the offender’s current means.
Unlawful profit orders can also be made in civil proceedings, where no criminal charges are brought.
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