Note: This article was updated at 2000hrs on 30 July to add a comment from Transport for London.
I was not, in all honesty, sure whether to publish the image at the top of this page. Partly because I’m a terrible photographer, as you can almost certainly tell at a glance; partly because I am, in effect, giving free publicity to what can only be described as a truly appalling ad campaign. But there’s unfortunately no way of talking about this without showing you what I’m talking about, so there the image stands.
Some background on this. Nestify is not a lettings agency, in the traditional sense of those parasitic companies that sit between landlords and tenants, sucking as much money as they can from both while providing the absolute bare minimum in terms of actual service. It’s something new: a company that sits between landlords and lettings platforms like AirBnB, who in turn provide tenants. That, you will notice, is a whole new layer of middleman. Why this is meant to be a good thing, rather than just another thing that bumps up the costs for tenants and diverts the money from landlords (poor lambs), I’m not exactly sure.
Anyway. Nestify promises a bunch of services – “professional photography”, “guest relations, “24/7 key exchange”, and so on – to take the pain out of putting your home on AirBnB and bumping up your rental income by a whopping 34 per cent*. That “*” represents the fact it’s what happened with some specific two bed flat in central London. That makes me wonder why the company isn’t using an average, except not really because the answer’s incredibly obvious, and I would bet my right kidney the average isn’t nearly so flattering.
In that last paragraph, I’ve instinctively been using “your”, because it makes it easier to write. Except, the odds are, it isn’t “yours”, is it? As of 2016, the last year for which figures seem to be available, 29 per cent of households in inner London were in the private rented sector (PRS), and another 33 per cent in social rent; just 38 per cent were owner-occupied. That means that a clear majority of inner Londoners don’t have property to rent. Nestify isn’t talking to them – even if it is getting uncomfortably close to talking about their homes.
What’s more, you’ll be stunned to hear, those figures have been moving steadily in one direction. Back in 2006, just 24 per cent of inner London households were in the PRS, while 39 per cent were owner-occupied. The share of Londoners who might look at a Nestify ad, read the “you” as addressed to them, and think, “Oooh, higher rents! Great!” has fallen, slightly. The share who will read the “you” as refering to their bastard landlord, who might even now be thinking, “Oooh, I can jack up the rent”, has grown, significantly.
someone on the overground got pissed off and scribbled on this ad (and rightly so) pic.twitter.com/a15OTq4bxB
— dodie (@doddleoddle) June 3, 2019
If all this sounds very familiar, it’s because it is. At the end of May, Nestify’s rival Hostmaker ran an extremely similar campaign, promising landlords an extra 30 per cent on their short term rents. The result was an outcry from tenants and a petition organised by campaign group Generation Rent.
Hostmaker rushed out a statement apologising for the “misguided” tone and promised to remove its ads. Barely two months later, Nestify is doing exactly the same thing. Whether the result will be a similar outcry remains to be seen. We can but hope.
The company would no doubt respond – it’s difficult to be sure, because it’s thus far ignored my repeated requests for comments, but I’m guessing – that this is not an attack on tenants. These campaigns are not aimed at homes in the PRS, but at owner-occupiers hoping to make a few quid from the places they actually live.
But the housing market doesn’t work like that. There are a finite number of properties, and if landlords think they can get more money from short-term lets than long-term tenancies, more of them will pull out of the PRS altogether in favour of going full AirBnB. That will leave tenants fighting over even fewer, even more expensive rented homes.
This is not a theoretical problem: in some big tourist destinations, short-term letting sites have hurt locals so badly that city governments have moved to crack down. In 2016, Berlin introduced a blanket ban on renting entire apartments, rather than individual rooms, through AirBnb. Last year Barcelona introduced a licencing scheme to make it possible to regulate the sector, while Amsterdam has limited the number of nights homes can be rented out for. All such policies are intended to nudge homes out of the short-term lettings sector to leave them available to locals.
Earlier this month, even Manchester announced pilot plans to make it impossible for purchasers of homes on a new estate to cash in through short-term lettings. Yet despite pressure, TfL continues to take money from companies like Nestify, whose entire business model is built on making it harder for Londoners to find homes.
It shouldn’t. Ads like this are an insult to the huge number of Londoners whose rents are too high, who live in poor quality housing, who live in fear of being turfed out at short notice by landlords who think they can get a few more quid from somebody else. Transport for London is a service for all Londoners. It should act like it.
Update, 2000hrs. Transport for London has provided the following comment. “This campaign was booked several months ago. It has now ended and the adverts are being removed. Any proposed future advertisements of this nature will be properly reviewed to ensure any concerns are fully considered as part of the approval process for advertising on our network.”