A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog highlighting the problems I had dealing with the freeholder, Camden Council, over problems my tenants faced with bed bugs and rising damp.
Except for a neighbour who insisted on leaving her guinea pig in its cage in the communal hallway and another who left a bath running so water came cascading down on to my new kitchen, things had settled down – until earlier this year.
My studio is in a Victorian house, divided into four flats, which one of the owners had let out for some time. However, earlier this year her tenant started to sublet via Airbnb. Every few days, a new batch of guests would arrive – at one time, there were seven Frenchmen staying in the two-bedroom apartment. Arriving home drunk in the early hours of the morning, they would ring all the doorbells until someone answered.
One of the guests was happy to show my neighbour around the flat – the furniture had been removed and replaced by single beds.
Guests would leave food waste in open supermarket bags or in black sacks in the garden as the bins were full now that there were so many extra bods in one flat. Rats were roaming in the front garden in broad daylight and, as my flat is in the basement, I have a front patio with plants hanging down from the garden above – my tenant sent me a video of a rat swinging across the branches, Tarzan-like.
Camden Council said it could do nothing about the rats, as putting down poison would be dangerous to animals and passers-by. It also pointed out that council taxpayers have the right to rent out their entire home for up to 90 days a calendar year.
However, after phoning up again, it said it would contact the owner of the flat. That was back in early May, but a month later the guests were still coming in droves.
When I rang Camden Council, it said it had tried to contact the owner but her phone just went to voicemail and they had no means of contacting her other than by sending a letter to her Camden flat. I pointed out that they would have her home address in the council’s accounting system as she paid service charges – but I was told that as it was a different department, they couldn’t get the details. It reminded me of the Little Britain comedy sketch, ‘Computer says no’.
I then complained to Airbnb, which suggested that I post my concerns on its Neighbour tool, saying: “Anyone around the world can go to Airbnb.com/neighbours to share specific concerns with our customer experience team that they might have about a listing. If we're able to confirm the listing you’ve reported, we'll contact the host directly to remind them of their responsibilities as a host and offer any assistance with their account.”
That sounded positive, I thought, and quickly posted my problem via the Airbnb link.
But Airbnb’s response was far from helpful, saying: “We shared your complaint with your neighbor [sic] and asked them to certify they are compliant with all applicable laws and regulations, as required under our Terms of Service. Unfortunately, we are unable to mediate disputes regarding violations of local laws or third party agreements.
“If you’re in the same building, we recommend contacting your landlord, homeowner’s association, housing authority, or other party to help resolve this issue.
“Whenever possible, we want to encourage hosts and neighbors to connect directly to resolve their issues. We’ve found this is often the fastest way to get the concerns addressed.
“Thank you for helping to improve our community.”
By now, the owner of the flat had been made aware of the problem and phoned me to apologise for any inconvenience. She explained that she had been working abroad and had no idea what had been going on.
As her tenant had been careful to ensure that guests stayed fewer than 90 days, he had not broken the terms of the tenancy agreement – but she could give him two months’ notice.
He’s recently moved out, and both his guests and the resident rats have gone – for now.