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Environment / Climate change

Hostmaker’s apology isn’t an apology – and short-term lets are an attack on ordinary renters

It was Friday at 5pm when we got the message – well, when CityMetric got the message, to be more specific. After Generation Rent’s petition climbed to over 8,000 signatures, short-term lettings company Hostmaker finally apologised and announced that the ads encouraging landlords to turf out long term tenants in favour of holiday lets would be removed from London’s transport network over the weekend.

In its official statement, the company said:

“We are sorry for the concern caused by our recent ad campaign and we acknowledge the tone was misguided. The adverts will be coming down this weekend and we will be reviewing all future creatives with our partners.”

My first instinct was to celebrate – but the rest of the statement quickly turned my celebration to disbelief at how out of touch one company could be. Here’s the rest of the statement…hold on to your hats.

“In a cosmopolitan city like London, there is a need for a range of housing and rental solutions to meet the needs of the wide variety of residents and visitors in our capital city. Whilst it’s critical that there is plenty of affordable housing stock available, our portfolio is made up of premium homes in zone 1&2 postcodes and does not take affordable housing stock away from the market.

“We are here to meet the needs of Londoners and visitors to the capital who would prefer to stay in a high quality, furnished and managed home service. We provide a flexible lettings model to homeowners of these type of properties; blending long-term, mid-term and short-term rentals to suit market demands and help homeowners weather the current slump in rent prices and property sales, ensuring they aren’t left with gaps in the year when their property is standing empty.”

Firstly, let’s take note of the fact that Hostmaker didn’t get in touch with Generation Rent directly to let us know the outcome of our campaign. Instead, it went straight to a journalist. That’s pretty damning proof that this apology is more about damage control than anything else.

Then there’s the send time. At 5pm last Friday, I should have been starting to wrap up for the weekend; instead, I was busy letting the 8000 people who joined our campaign know they’d won.

Hostmaker’s statement is, quite frankly, disgusting. Let’s take it line by line to find out why.

“Whilst it’s critical that there is plenty of affordable housing stock available, our portfolio is made up of premium homes in zone 1&2 postcodes and does not take affordable housing stock away from the market.”

Zones 1&2 are not the preserve of the uber-rich. In zones 1&2 you can find Tower Hamlets, a borough where the average household earns £23,092, spends a whopping 71 per cent of its income on rent, and where 48.6 per cent of children live in poverty. In Kensington & Chelsea, the average income is £34,678 and 95 per cent of earnings go towards rent.

So: Hostmaker’s adverts telling landlords they can make “up to 30 per cent more” by ditching their tenants for short term lets are, ipso facto, encouraging landlords to kick out the poorest renters in zones 1&2.

Hostmaker’s “premium homes” in zones 1 and 2 would be a lot more affordable to Londoners if they didn’t have to pay the 30 per cent mark-up that holiday lets make. Those people now have to find homes in zone 3 or beyond, and can outbid renters already living there with their higher incomes. Those renters are pushed even further out from the centre, adding to the pressure throughout London – all thanks to companies like Hostmaker which take homes out of the long-term residential market.

“We are here to meet the needs of Londoners and visitors to the capital who would prefer to stay in a high quality, furnished and managed home service.”

I’m a Londoner who wants “a high quality, furnished and managed home service”, Hostmaker. In fact there are 2 million renters in London who probably want that too. What of them?

It doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines here.

“…help homeowners weather the current slump in rent prices and property sales”

Bear with me whilst I get my tiny violin for this one. The average rent per person in London is £660 and, as someone who was once separated from a housemate by a wall so thin I could push it over, I know all too well that many landlords are cramming enough tenants into houses to cover much more than their mortgage.

London’s house prices might have fallen by 2 percent over the past year – but they are still 89 per cent higher than they were a decade ago. If landlords have a business model that cannot handle a slowdown in rents, then they should sell up to someone who can.

But clearly the holiday let market is appealing for landlords precisely because they want to maximise their profits. This is exactly why we ultimately need to do more than take down the ads: we need to tax and regulate the sector properly.

You know what’s the worst part is? The ads are still up. On Sunday evening I walked through Oxford Circus and saw three huge Hostmaker ads still there. On Twitter, we’ve been sent proof of adverts on the Overground this week.

Incidentally, some Londoners now seem to be taking matters into their own hands.

Georgie Laming is a campaigner at Generation Rent, which represents 11 millions renters across the UK.


 
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