Is Airbnb becoming the new Buy-to-Let?

by | Aug 24, 2017 | Blog post, Housing Supply & Rents

Over the past 18 months we have been monitoring the growth in short-term lettings across London, and the Residential Landlords Association (RLA), on the back of our research reports has successfully campaigned for self-regulation by Airbnb to ensure hosts do not breach the 90-night limit.

In these previous research reports we identified the significant growth (27%) in the use of Airbnb over a 4-month period in 2016. Between February and June 2016 there was a:

  • 24% increase in the number of entire homes/apartments that were listed on the platform,
  • 18% increase in the number of entire homes available for more than 90 nights, and a,
  • 34% increase in the number of multi-listing entire home/apartments.

We argued that this was evidence that the use of Airbnb was drifting from its vision of allowing home-owners to occasionally rent out a spare room or their property when on holiday. There is the potential that the growth in the use of Short Term Letting platforms (such as Airbnb) could be eroding the housing stock. This is an important debate for everyone in the housing sector to engage in, especially at a time of a housing crisis.

We have continued to analyse the growth of short term lettings and our latest research is showing worrying trends for the private rented sector. This latest research is split into two parts. Firstly, we asked landlords from across the country to complete a short questionnaire on tenant sub-letting and whether they had themselves started to offer properties on Airbnb rather than for long term lets in the private rented sector. The total number of responses to the survey was 1,436. Secondly, we have conducted a comparative analysis of the secondary data available from InsideAirbnb to investigate the change in listings between February 2016 and March 2017.

Tenant Sub-Letting

Overall, 7% of landlords reported that they had found their tenant had advertised a property or room on Airbnb or a similar platform without their permission. If we extrapolate[1] this across to the wider landlord body, this is approximately 133,000 properties across the country being sub-let without the landlord’s permission for short-term lets. Furthermore, it is likely that the mortgage, insurance and leasehold conditions for these properties have been potentially breached, which could cause significant issues for landlords.

In addition, this could also end with the tenant being served with an eviction notice for breaching the terms of their tenancy agreement. This issue is likely to be under-represented by the findings of this survey, with landlords reporting that they predominately only finding out through actively looking for Adverts (24%), visiting the property (29%) or from complaints (25%). It is likely that this behaviour by the tenants could go completely un-noticed with the landlord never finding out.

Are Landlords using Airbnb or similar platforms?

From this sample of landlords, 7% reported they had now started to offer properties as holiday/short term lets through Airbnb or a similar platform that they would have previously let in the private rented sector. Using the latest figures from HMRC for the number of unincorporated landlords it is estimated, that at a minimum, that 133,000 are moving from the private rented sector to short term lets.

These landlords were then asked why they had decided to change their business model to now offer short term lets. This transformation to their letting strategy is in part being driven by the changes to mortgage interest relief, with over 1 in 3 landlords listing this as a major reason for the change. This is a legitimate business decision for these landlords to take in order to mitigate their reduced profitability[2] due to mortgage interest relief changes in the PRS. This change is certainly an unintended consequence of the implementation of this policy, however, with PwC[3] estimating a further 1.8 million homes to rent are needed by 2025 it is likely that this policy could hinder the supply of these homes. The government rather than taking action that penalises the sector, needs to implement sensible policies that support landlords to provide homes to rent. Without a shift in policy, demand for properties is set to increase and this will place an upward pressure on rents, with potential increases predicted to be between 20 and 30%[4].

The participants of this survey were provided with the option to provide comments on why they were switching to short term lets. A number of the landlords revealed that this was not a choice that was made lightly, with some landlords reporting that the Government have forced them to make this change. This is indicated in the below quote:

I didn’t want to do this, but the tax changes have forced me down this route. Selling is not an option due to CGT, and this iniquitous tax which is effectively retrospective, is unjust in that my buy to lets are a business, just like any other. There will be less properties available to rent as a result of this tax.”

How has the Sharing Economy changed over the past 12 months?

Airbnb itself doesn’t publish data on how many properties are listed and how long they are occupied. Rather to analyse this, we have to use secondary data from organisations such as InsideAirbnb.com who scrape the data from the Airbnb website. In our latest research, we examine three data-sets of listings for London, the first was for February 2016, the second for June 2016 and the third for March 2017. It is important to note however, that each data-set only provides a single snap-shot of the listings available on Airbnb at that time.

The comparative analysis of these data-sets enables us to document and track the changes in usage in London, but to also empower wider discussion on the issues arising from these changes.

Number of Listings

Since February 2016 there has been a 60% increase in the number of listings available on Airbnb in London. Between February 2016 and March 2017 the number of listings has grown from 33,715 to 53,904 listings. At the same time, the number of Entire home/apartment listings has grown from 17,625 listings in February 2016 to 27,175 listings in March 2017, an increase of 54%.

Change in the number of Airbnb Listings in London between February 2016 and March 2017

  • Entire Home/Apartment Listings 54% 54%
  • Private Room Listings 67% 67%
  • Shared Room Listings 47% 47%
  • All Listings 60% 60%

There has been a significant growth for all three types of property listing on Airbnb. The largest growth of 67% has been for private room listings, indicating a growth in individuals letting out a spare bedroom, but it is also possible that individuals are splitting up a property into multiple listings such as an ‘Airbnb HMO’. Our previous research identified case studies where landlords had found tenants sub-letting rooms in their properties, and in some circumstances turning living rooms into make-shift bedrooms[5].

Availability of Listings

Since February 2016, there has been a 23% increase in the number of listings that were available for over 90 nights per year in London. While there has been an increase of 8% in the number of entire home/apartment listings between February 2016 and March 2017, there was a decrease of 8% in the number of listings. This finding indicates the self-regulation by Airbnb could be having an effect, however, there is a limitation to using the availability of properties. If a property is already booked this is not identified in these findings, this therefore under-estimates the number of bookings for highly available properties.

This change however has not occurred for private room listings and shared room listings. Each of these listing type has experienced significant growth in the past 12 months, with a 40% increase in private room listings between February 2016 and March 2017. This suggests more individuals are turning to Airbnb to let out a spare bedroom for longer across the year or advertising as a private room to get around their obligations from the 90-night limit.

Change in the number of Airbnb Listings with an availability over 90 nights between February 2016 and March 2017

  • Entire home/apartment listings 8% 8%
  • Private room listings 40% 40%
  • Shared room listings 30% 30%
  • All Listings 23% 23%

Multi-listings and the Professionalisation of the Sharing Economy

In London, the professionalisation of Airbnb with individuals offering multiple listings has expanded significantly over the past 12 months. For all property types, this has grown by 75% and this provides considerable evidence that the use of Airbnb is shifting dramatically from its vision of allowing home-owners to occasionally rent out a spare room or their property when away. The growth in multi-listings is significant cause for concern during a housing crisis, as this is 22,000 properties now potentially unavailable for long term renting.

One of the largest increases in multi-listings has been for private room listings, which has grown by 85% since February 2016. As discussed above, this potentially indicates that Airbnb hosts are turning properties into ‘Airbnb HMOs’ and offering multiple rooms of a property to different individuals. This would also enable the host to potentially get around the self-regulation by Airbnb on the 90-night limit.

Change in the number of Airbnb Multi-Listings between February 2016 and March 2017

%

Entire Home/Apartment Listings

%

Private Room Listings

%

Shared Room Listings

%

All Listings

Conclusion

Our research has identified that short-term lets have continued to grow in London over the past 12 months, by a substantial 60%. Furthermore, there has been a 54% increase in the number of entire home/apartment listings available on the platform. There has also been an 8% increase since February 2016 in the number of entire home/apartment listings that are available for over 90 nights per year, and this is now a potential 12,213 homes unavailable for families to rent for the long term.

This research also demonstrates the growing body of evidence for the professionalisation of the sharing economy with the significant (75%) growth in the number of multi-listings on Airbnb. This indicates that professionals in London are now taking over rather than those home-owners looking to let out a spare room.

The survey of landlords confirms this, with 7% of landlords now starting to offer their properties as short-term lets rather than in the private rented sector. With over 1 in 3 landlords reporting that this was due to the changes in mortgage interest relief. At a time when there is a housing crisis and it is predicted by PwC that a further 1.8 million homes to rent are needed by 2025, it is incomprehensible that the government is encouraging short term lets through tax breaks while removing support for landlords who provide homes for families for the long term.

The findings of the survey also demonstrated that a small proportion of tenants are sub-letting without permission properties on Airbnb. Not only does this put the tenants at risk of being evicted, it also puts the landlord at significant risk with licensing, mortgage, and insurance conditions and increased repair costs.

While there is no issue on home-owners or tenants (with permission) to use Airbnb to advertise their property for the short term when they are away. We need to address the issue of a significant amount of properties moving from long term lets to short term lets. If this continues this will prevent families, workers and young people from accessing affordable homes to rent. The government needs to reconsider their changes to mortgage interest relief to regain the confidence of businesses within the private rented sector, but also there needs to be an in-depth assessment of this impact on the London private rented sector.

 

Commenting on the initial findings of the research, RLA Chairman, Alan Ward said:

“With ever growing demand for rented accommodation, the country cannot afford to face the potential loss of almost 135,000 homes to rent in the long term. This number will almost certainly grow with the phased introduction of the tax increases.

“We believe in a free market but the government must consider the impact of its tax measures if landlords are moving property from long term rental into the holiday market.  Landlords are willing investors and the Government should be encouraging the majority who provide good accommodation, through positive tax and regulation, to provide much needed new homes to rent for the long term.”

 

 

[1] Using the latest HMRC figures for number of landlords of 1.9 million landlords. Retrieved from: Walmsley. S (2017). Challenging the myth: Two thirds of landlords pay basic rate tax. Residential Landlords Association. Retrieved from: https://news.rla.org.uk/two-thirds-landlords-pay-basic-rate-income-tax/

[2] Simcock, T.J. (2016). Landlord Investment, Finance and Tax Report 2016. Manchester, UK: Residential Landlords Association. Available at: https://research.rla.org.uk/report/landlord-investment-finance-tax-report-2016/

[3] PwC. (2015). UK Economic Outlook July 2015. Retrieved from: https://www.pwc.co.uk/assets/pdf/ukeo-jul2015.pdf

[4] Miles, D. (2016) The impact of recent tax changes on the private rented sector, November 2016, available at https://workspace.imperial.ac.uk/business-school/Public/people/dmiles/Tax-Changes-November-2016.pdf.

[5] Simcock, T., & Smith, D., (2016). The Rental Revolution: What the Sharing Economy is doing to the PRS? Manchester, UK: Residential Landlords Association. Available at: https://research.rla.org.uk/report/rental-revolution-sharing-economy-and-renting/