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Illegal lockdown parties hosted in online rentals

BBC Technology 24 Jun 2020 11:22
By Cristina Criddle Technology reporter
Several hosts said they found gas cannisters, used for taking laughing gas, in their propertiesImage copyright Darya Simanovich

Lockdown parties hosted in properties booked via online sites, including Airbnb and Booking.com, are putting "communities at risk", the Bed and Breakfast Association has said.

Hosts and residents have complained of groups of up to 30 breaking social-distancing rules and taking drugs.

BBC News has been told of several such parties in the past month.

Airbnb said it had gone further than its rivals to protect public health during the pandemic.

However, last week a man was stabbed at a party in a south London property police believe had been rented out via the platform.

'Take responsibility'

Following a previous BBC News investigation into "coronavirus retreats", Airbnb had told users they could make bookings only if they were key workers or required “essential stays”.

But that restriction is to be lifted, in line with local rules on hotels and self-catering accommodation, in:

Rival platform Booking.com does not currently flag such limits.

“While B&Bs and guest houses have been closed since 23 March, it seems these giant platforms have allowed bookings to be made and enabled the so-called 'lockdown parties', which have put guests, hosts, neighbours and communities at risk,” Bed and Breakfast Association chairman David Weston said.

Although the BBC saw evidence that some of the bookings involved were made via Airbnb, the hosts involved asked that their details not be shared with the company.

"We have zero tolerance for illegal activity and Airbnb is the only platform to limit all UK bookings to essential travel for key workers until restrictions are lifted," the company said.

Booking.com did not respond to a request for comment.

Darya Simanovich, who runs Chelsea Creperie but rents out a property on both Airbnb and Booking.com for extra income, said it had been “trashed” many times since lockdown began, at the end of March, by guests posing as key workers, who had turned out to be organising illegal parties.

"The key collection was contact-free.

"So I had to ask them to leave.

“Letting out your home is all about trust.

“I don’t think the new guidelines will change anything.

'Extra risk'

“I’ve had no problems at all until lockdown,” he said.

"I’m sad that they’ve created an extra risk.”

Another host, who asked to remain anonymous, had a group of younger adults partying in her property.

"They feel hard done by, as lockdown measures are largely for older people.

'Unenforceable guidance'

But there is concern this will be difficult to enforce in short-term lets.

“It’s too complicated and not law.

"You can’t verify the relationship of your guests.”

Merilee Karr, who chairs the UK Short Term Accommodation Association, which represents short-term rental businesses, including Airbnb, said people should have made bookings only if they had legitimate reasons to do so, such as being a key worker or needing hospital treatment.

"We totally disapprove of anyone that has falsely booked accommodation to hold an activity that falls outside of the government guidelines and take action where this would be discovered.”

A neighbour to a rental property, who asked to remain anonymous, told BBC News: "I live in a quiet area in London.

"You can spot them right away.

"I’ve been kept up all night by the loud music that has played until 05:00.

"When it happens, I’ve wanted to knock on the door and confront them.

"It’s happening because people don’t have anywhere else to go at the moment.

"Action needs to be taken.

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Tags

Bed and Breakfast AssociationBBCDavid WestonDarya SimanovichChelsea Creperie
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