Last year the First Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) heard its first case concerning an unlawful letting of residential property on a short term basis through the Airbnb website.
In that case the Tribunal found that this particular letting through Airbnb did not constitute an unauthorised sublet. Whilst perhaps surprising, it was determined that the tenant ran the operation akin to a guesthouse; he had access to the property and as such could not be said to have parted with possession.
If you are a tenant looking to utilise these websites, this ruling does not give carte blanche to do so; firstly, there will be occasions where the tenant has parted with possession (e.g. they hand over the keys to a property) and as such an unauthorised sublet will have occured.
Secondly, it will almost certainly breach other covenants in the lease (as the Tribunal decided in this case) including not to use the property for business purposes/anything other than as an individual residential household.
Landlords: with a professionally drafted lease, you should have the weaponry to take action against your tenant.
Tenants: you have been warned.
If you want to hear a real Airbnb horror story, how about the one involving the riot police who were called to a flat in Brixton, south London, after 150 people arrived for a party that turned into chaos? In that case, reported in the Times in May, residents had apparently called the police on several occasions to break up parties in the flat, which had been let through the website. One complained that a partygoer “landed with a crash on to his balcony from above” and knocked on his window to get back in.