The tradition of offering bed and breakfast in London homes is somewhat older than the fatuous marketing material emanating from offshore in Dublin 4 would have the gullible believe. For the genteel B+B ladies of Chelsea, Knightsbridge and elsewhere in central (and Zone 2) London, good manners and discretion were paramount. Check-ins before 8am and after 10pm were out of the question, particularly after the white heat of technology introduced those awful trolley portmanteaus that make such a vulgar noise when dragged along the cobbles of one's mews, outraging the local baronets and inviting a Notice to Quit on Grosvenor or Cadogan-headed vellum. As long as the proprieties were observed, the "sharing economy" – goodness, what daring new ideas people do come up with these days! worked rather well, and estate factors turned a blind eye.
Now, it's a free-for-all, with central London a particular hot spot for short lets, but Zone 2 also buzzing, particularly with apartment and studio lets. The old guard of Marylebone, Fitzrovia and Covent Garden are highly pissed off, but there aren't enough of them left to make a difference any more; City and foreign property investment has changed the face of central London, and you can be sure those assets are going to be worked for all they're worth.
This is a winner either way for Pickles and chums, as incoming tourists to London (stats currently on the up) can afford to stay centrally and spend their cash in the caffs, shops, theatres and pubs, and the property owners and estate agents and B+B websites and scooter-boy concierges all collect their cut. Hotel chains are allowed to compete by creating cheaper mini-mes on tiny city centre footprints, and Zone 2 property owners with house space to spare get to earn the cash to pay for the kids' astronomical school fees. Splendid idea, Belinda! Not convincing enough? How about AirBnB’s claim back in early 2014, that it was generating £502m in economic activity in the UK, and supporting 11,629 jobs? The government has no idea how to regenerate real industries that make real stuff, so to them, this flow of parasitical capital – so disruptive! – looks like an excellent wheeze. No way do they want nitpicking local councils relieving themselves in the soup.
The cash-strapped councils themselves, previously unbothered by traditional, low-key B+B homes, have been unable to keep up with the speed of the change, their planning officers' idea of regulating B+B being more about fire regulations and potential overcrowding in HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) than apartment blocks full of partying tourists. You're renting, and sub-letting? By the time the council catches up with you, you'll be minted anyway, possibly by even enough to get yourself a mortgage: evict away and roll on the next customer! Housing association? The new websites aren't fussy, and see above for the risk vs profit factor. Westminster is livid, but as it's so skint that the most under-the-cosh planning staff in the country are currently being re-interviewed for their own jobs, it's toothless. So no policies, and no fines. Same in LA, NY, San Francisco, and it will be interesting to see how Asia – presumably to be the source lode for that projected $1bn pa turnover, – reacts.
If the owner of the property happens to be resident (rare, these days) they can also claim tax relief of £4,250 pa under the Rent-A-Room scheme. (Now, we are all claiming honestly, aren't we, that we live under the same roof as our esteemed guests? All the time? Of course we are.) The only remaining snags are insurance and mortgage regulations, but a good selection of underwriters have the first pretty much covered for home-letters using the big websites, and why would the banks want to jeopardise the income streams being sustained by such a mini property boom? Sleeping dogs etc.
In the short term, then, all looks rosy, provided the private equity (a rumoured $800million for AirBnB up to the start of 2015) keeps rolling in. Just make the cash while the concept’s hot, keep talking it up, and whatever you do, don’t mention the profit margins….