The first my sister knew that one of her neighbours was using his apartment as an Airbnb let was around midnight a couple of months ago. In fairly quick succession she heard a door slam, a loud argument and then the smashing of glass, which turned out to be a bottle thrown into the car park.
She wasn’t the nearest resident of her block to the source of the commotion, however, and those unfortunate enough to live immediately above the rented flat say they didn’t get a wink of sleep until around 5am despite a visit from the police. A week later, blaring music from the Airbnb kept people awake until the early hours.
Noisy neighbours can be a problem anywhere, of course, but the Airbnb phenomenon seems to expose people to more anti-social behaviour than they get from full-time neighbours, who can be held accountable for any disturbance.
Since the website for holiday accommodation was founded in San Francisco 11 years ago it has grown into a £25 billion business. The story goes that two flatmates found they couldn’t afford the rent and had the idea of pumping up air mattresses and sleeping on their living room floor so they could rent out the bedrooms. That led to a chance conversation with an internet-savvy friend who built a website through which people could earn extra money from spare rooms.
That concept has grown into a holiday rental business, with no “b” for breakfast in the vast majority of cases. Home-owners vacate the premises or – more usually the case – buy properties specifically to rent out through Airbnb. As a result the company has opened offices in London, Paris, Barcelona, Moscow and other capital cities.
I am amazed at just how many properties are currently on offer. A quick search for a few days’ accommodation in my home West Yorkshire village turned up 24 choices of places to stay. Looking at the results it was clear that none of them bore any resemblance to the original idea of renting out spare rooms.
These properties lumber full-time residents with constantly changing and potentially disruptive neighbours. It takes just one noisy weekend to put people who live nearby on constant alert to activities at an Airbnb property. My sister dreads what will happen every weekend because of the noise, as well as filthy carpets in the entrance hall.
If, like her, you live somewhere that’s popular with hen and stag parties, having an Airbnb neighbour is bad news. The property is basically rented out as a party house. In Liverpool some areas have been said to suffer “mayhem and all-night parties” because of short-term Airbnb lets.
But it’s not just noisy transient Airbnbers that’s the problem. The ease with which properties can find high-paying customers is beginning to have an impact on the amount of rental accommodation available, and raising rents to often unaffordable levels for anyone looking for a year-round place to live.
Earlier this year residents in York complained about the huge impact Airbnb was having on the city but the council’s planning department admitted it had no way of stopping it. When the planners find that their own neighbours have rented out to Airbnbers will they finally do something about a monster that’s already out of control?
Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him onTwitter @Ratcliffe