By Rowland Manthorpe, Technology Correspondent
Everyone knows that Google, Apple and Facebook are big, and that Uber and Netflix are fairly sizeable too.
But far fewer people are aware just how enormous Airbnb and its rivals have become – not in the boulevards and piazzas of foreign cities, but right here, in the UK.
The scale of the growth is not only remarkable, but also largely untracked.
"We are blind to the amount of short-term letting that goes on," said Ian Adams, cabinet member for Westminster Council, which estimates that as many as one in 15 housing units in the borough are being let as short-term rentals.
According to the last figures released by Airbnb, two million guests stayed at 64,000 London listings between 1 July 2016 and 1 July 2017, a growth of 49% on the previous year.
When you factor in rival short-term letting platforms such as Booking.com and TripAdvisor, then it's clear we are in the midst of a short-term letting boom, which is causing intense pressure on housing stock and local communities.
"It's a real problem," said Mr Adams. "We've got 8,000 properties that we estimate are being used for Airbnb-type activity – that's 8,000 flats or houses that can't be used for people that might be working or living in Westminster."
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The issue goes back to 2015, when the Coalition government passed a law which relaxed the previously stringent rules on short-term lets.
To protect London's existing housing supply, and reduce the impact on local communities, the government made it illegal to let residential properties for more than 90 nights a year.
But Westminster Council says the legislation is impossible to enforce.
Spending a day with Westminster's Housing Enforcement Team, it was easy to see why.
We visited Park West, a handsome residential apartment block near Marble Arch. Nearly one in five of its 530 flats is being used as a short-term rental – which means it has more rooms than there are in the entire Ritz.
In order to confirm that a letting was breaking the 90-day limit, the council officers needed to speak to the host or their guests in person. On the day we visited, they knocked on 30 doors. Only one person answered – and he didn't speak English.
After he closed the door, I asked the officer what that interaction meant.
"We could count it as one day, because we've seen him," he said.
In other words, to catch someone breaking the 90-day limit, Westminster's seven-person housing enforcement team – which is currently handling over 1,000 complaints – might have to go back to a flat 91 times.
In response to the 90-day cap, Airbnb introduced an "automated hosting limit", which blocks out a host's calendar for the year once they have reached 90 days of rentals for a single property.
However, Westminster Council say that it's too easy to get aroRead More – Source