Brighton and Hove councillors seek more powers to tackle problem party houses

The problems caused by party houses have prompted councillors to call on the government to grant them greater powers to crack down on owners.

The plea for more powers won unanimous support despite an email from one online operator, Airbnb, promising to make improvements.

Councillors spoke about drunk and rowdy behaviour, litter, vandalism and parking problems linked to “short-term lets” during a debate at Hove Town Hall last night (Thursday 19 December).

And despite Airbnb’s pledge, Brighton and Hove City Council chief executive Geoff Raw is now expected to write to Robert Jenrick, the Conservative government’s Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary.

Hours before the meeting of the full council, Airbnb’s head of policy Marie Lorimer emailed Labour councillor Alan Robins.

This followed a meeting with members of the council, including Green councillor Martin Osborne and Conservative councillor Lee Wares.

Marie Lorimer listed measures that Airbnb planned to take to deal with anti-social behaviour.

These included a direct email address – so that neighbours could report problems with noise, parking and rubbish – and “host education”.

Airbnb is looking to adopt a “three strikes and out” policy, she said, with a ban on party houses where guests create a “persistent neighbourhood nuisance”.

The council debate followed a motion proposed by Labour councillor Amanda Evans, who represents Queen’s Park, where problems with party houses have prompted complaints over many years.

The motion was seconded by another Labour councillor, Jackie O’Quinn, who chairs the council’s Licensing Committee.

They said: “This council is acutely aware of the impact of so-called party houses, which affect tourist destinations and seaside towns and cities in particular.”

Councillor Amanda Evans

They said that previous attempts to address the problems with party houses, including appeals to the government, had effectively been ignored.

They added: “We note that local authorities currently do not have the ability or the powers to adequately address this issue.

“This council now asks for delegated powers so that we can take action where necessary and as appropriate.

“We need regulatory powers to stand up for our residents and ensure holiday lets are conducted in a responsible way.”

Measures could include changes to the law so that owners required planning permission and possibly even a licence to let their house or flat.

The aim, councillors said, was not to prevent someone renting out a room in a responsible way.

But they were keen that people who turned a home into a business paid business rates and were subject to the fire and safety rules governing hotels and guesthouses.

Councillor Alan Robins

After receiving Airbnb’s email, Councillor Robins, who chairs the council’s Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee, said: “It looks like they’re beginning to listen to us.

“I agree we should send a letter to the government and the secretary of state.

“It’s also important that we work cross party and engage with Airbnb and make sure we hold them to account on these things they tell us they’re prepared to do – and make sure they get done and we end up with the best possible solution.”

Councillor Evans told the council meeting last night that party houses were one of the biggest issues raised by residents when she knocked on doors before the May elections.

She said: “Party Houses are a huge issue in Queen’s Park, particularly in those parts of the ward in the ‘toast rack’ of roads that run between the seafront and St James’s Street.

“Most of those short streets have several short-term holiday let houses.

Councillor Lee Wares

“The permanent residents were keen to emphasise that most visitors behave impeccably and that they themselves, having chosen to live in the centre of town, love the liveliness and changing cast of characters that pass through their neighbourhood.

“But there are regular enough exceptions to make their lives in their own homes a misery at times.”

She said that some groups did not contribute to the local economy as they never left the house but survived on deliveries of supermarket pizza.

Councillor Evans said that there were more than 3,000 short-term holiday lets in the city and the issue needed to be revisited.

Councillor O’Quinn said that an extended terraced house in her ward, Goldsmid, in Hove, was rented out regularly at weekends, with visitors staying in the house enjoying the hot tub and partying.

Councillor Jackie O’Quinn

She said: “This is also causing issues in the rental market as houses which until recently were rented to families are now used as ‘holiday lets’ and the scale of this is distorting the housing market.

“Not only are properties not affordable to either rent or buy for most local residents, the amount of rented properties is rapidly decreasing as owners can make more money from ‘holiday lets’, especially those for large party groups.”

In Berlin, she said, short-term lets through operators such as Airbnb were restricted to rooms only.

Councillor Osborne said: “Certainly I’ve met several cases of residents who are at their wits’ end with these so-called party houses and think it’s about time that something is done.”

Councillor Martin Osborne

Councillor Wares said that a party house in his ward, Patcham, was subject to a noise abatement order.

He said: “This administration can act with noise abatement notices, use planning legislation, use building regulations, work with the fire brigade and the police.

“It can work with our revenue team on rates and Cityclean on commercial waste legislation.

“It can contact mortgage lenders and it can lean on those companies than list properties when there are real issues.

“It can provide a single point of contact to make dealing with resident concerns easier.”

A report on party house policy will go before the council’s Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee next year.

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