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Short term lets – planning consent required

We are regularly asked by leaseholder’s groups to comment on and take action against people undertaking short-term lettings within blocks of flats. By short-term lettings, I am referring to lettings for less than 6 months, often a week or two only.

The letting of a premises for a term less than 6 months constitutes a change of use, for which planning consent is required. Carrying out short term lettings of this sort without obtaining the necessary planning consent risks an Enforcement Notice being issued by the local authority, and failure to adhere to the terms of the Notice would then be a criminal offence under Section 179 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Any person found guilty of this offence is liable to a fine of up to £20,000 within the Magistrates’ Court (and more if convicted by the Crown Court).

OK, so that’s the legal position, but how are Landlords getting away with this then? In and around Central London, there is huge demand for short-term accommodation. In many cases, this is quite legitimately offered in premises which are purpose-built for short lets, and they have the correct planning consents (eg.  hotels, guest houses or serviced-apartment style buildings). However, given the high demand, there are large profits to be made and therefore numerous agencies have cropped up offering short-term accommodation, often in private flats. The more worrying aspect of this is that, in many cases, the flat owner (who may live abroad or away from the flat), is blissfully unaware that his flat is being used for such purposes, so that the first he knows about it is when an Enforcement Notice arrives on his doormat!

Why do we get involved?

As managing agents, we have a duty to our Leaseholders to manage their building effectively and within the law. Unfortunately, short-term lettings can have disastrous effects on the amenity offered by the building, as short-term tenants are often noisy, transient and uninterested in the long-term comfort of residents. It is also unsettling for those occupiers who are there on lawful long-term tenancies or leases, as they will always see different faces coming and going and the sense of ‘community’ that is so vital in a block of flats, is often lost.

What can be done?

Any resident or flat owner that suspects that a short-term letting is taking place should immediately report this to their managing agent or the local authority. It will usually be quite obvious when this is occurring. The local authority have their own teams of offices dedicated to handling such matters. If you are a Landlord, regularly check your flat and communicate with your letting agent constantly – ignorance of the problem is no excuse!

By Tim Darwall-Smith, Director, Sandrove Brahams Property Management Services