Short term letting growth raises fire safety concerns
THE NATIONAL Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and the tourism industry have warned about the risks from the growth of home sharing rental properties nationwide.
BBC News reported on the warnings from the NFCC and tourism industry leaders that a ‘Grenfell-style incident’ could happen unless inspections are enforced in short term letting. With MPs having called for all such properties to be registered earlier this year, the Short Term Accommodation Association (STAA) responded that hosts are ‘strongly recommended’ to follow safety guidance for their properties.
An NFCC spokesperson commented that fire and rescue services are ‘not aware’ of how many short term rental properties are being operated in their areas, which makes it ‘very difficult’ to assess potential risk’. They added that ‘without this knowledge of properties essentially operating as a bed and breakfast or hotel, it is almost impossible to carry out an inspection or give owners relevant advice to ensure their buildings are safe’.
The news outlet pointed out that fire safety law ‘applies to all properties in which people are paying to stay’, with a flat rented out through Airbnb in Plymouth last year described as a ‘deathtrap’ after a fire inspection. After the prosecution of the landlord in this case, Paul Bray, fire safety manager for Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, stated that the host showed a ‘lack of regard for life’.
He added that ‘people aren't aware of their rights to be protected from fire - and they will stay in places where the minimum standards are not being met. We are concerned that there are a lot of properties like this out there’. In turn, Kate Nicholls of the UK Hospitality and Tourism Alliance said that there was a ‘large volume of evidence suggesting that commercial landlords were using online home-sharing sites to rent out large properties all year round’.
She stated that ‘we are potentially risking a Grenfell-type tragedy that would be disastrous for families and further damage our reputation as a safe, attractive tourist destination’. The Residential Landlords’ Association meanwhile found that Airbnb listings in 10 UK cities grew by almost 200% between 2015 and 2017, to over 210,000 – ‘more than 10 times the number of traditional bed and breakfasts’.
Despite the call from MPs on the parliamentary group for tourism recommending that ‘all businesses offering accommodation should compete on a level playing field’ earlier this year in regards to regulation, the B&B Association said there was a ‘total and utter lack of enforcement’ of safety regulations, with chairman David Weston stating: ‘The authorities only inspect high-risk Airbnb style properties if someone complains, which is hugely unlikely, or if there is a fire.’
Merilee Karr from the STAA responded that its members, including Airbnb, have adopted health and safety standards from the long let industry, adding: ‘We strongly recommend hosts to follow the guidance the industry offers all our hosts. Wherever we find instances where those standards aren't being met we address them with urgency.’
MP Karen Buck, who has campaigned for a registration scheme, pointed out that there was now a ‘growing consensus’ for regulation, stating: ‘We know there are a significant minority who are letting properties on home sharing sites that raise issues for neighbours and are in breach of the law - whether it's around insurance, fire safety, or anti-social behaviour. They need to engage with us in order to prevent the problem getting worse.’
An Airbnb spokesperson responded to the story by noting that it had partnered with the NFCC to provide hosts with ‘information on how to make their homes safer’, and also run expert safety events. They commented: ‘If guests alert us to a hazard or safety issue at a listing, we immediately suspend the listing and investigate. The overwhelming majority of hosts and guests are good neighbours and respectful travellers, incidents are incredibly rare.’