Hostmaker adverts on the Transport for London network (2)

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 28th June 2019.

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Photo of Siân Berry Siân Berry Green

Why did it take so long for you to refer concerns about short term letting management company advertisements on the Transport for London (TfL) network to your Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Thank you, Chair. I have been clear that we should only support short-term lettings in London when people who let their homes on a short-term basis follow the law. If people abide by the 90-day annual limit, then short-term lettings can make a positive contribution to our city, such as providing more options for visitors whilst helping Londoners earn a little extra money. But where homes are let out all year round on a short-term basis, long-term rented housing can be lost whilst neighbours feel the negative impact of a continual turnover of visitors. I was, therefore, very concerned by the BBC’s footage that showed a number of platforms, including Hostmaker, encouraging hosts to break the 90-day rule. In light of this investigation, when Hostmaker’s advert on the TfL network was brought to my attention in May [2019], I immediately asked my Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development [James Murray] to follow up with TfL. He spoke to TfL, and TfL referred the recent advert to the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), who advised that the campaign may be in breach of the CAP Code.

My Deputy Mayor will be meeting with Hostmaker to discuss our serious concerns about its business practices. Until this meeting has taken place and the issues have been resolved, TfL has assured me there will be no further Hostmaker advertising on its network.

This situation underlines the clear need for the regulation of short-term lettings in London to be strengthened and made more effective. The 90-day rule is near impossible for councils to enforce. That is why in April [2019], I along with Airbnb and London Councils wrote to the Secretary of State [The Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP] calling on the Government to develop plans for a light-touch registration system. Such a system would protect London’s long-term rented homes by giving councils the tools they need to enforce the law. I was, therefore, disappointed to receive a response from the Minister for Housing and Homelessness [Heather Wheeler MP] last week. She did not accept the need for a registration system. Instead she said, and I quote, “We should see whether positive change could be delivered more quickly on a voluntary basis”.

We have tried, Chair, to encourage change on a voluntary basis for three years. The time has come to strengthen councils’ ability to enforce the law. My Deputy Mayor [for Housing and Residential Development, James Murray] will continue working with councils, willing members of the industry and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Short-Lets Sector to push the Government under the new PM about taking this idea forward.

Photo of Siân Berry Siân Berry Green

Thank you, Mr Mayor. Sticking to the topic of adverts, I am interested that you say it was brought to your attention in May [2019], because I first asked you about this a year ago in June [2018], then again in March this year [2019]. I really am pleased that you have finally got the point about these adverts. There has been a strong campaign from Generation Rent. You have had a letter from Assembly Member Copley on top of these questions, and this is great. It seems to me like any kind of advert for these kinds of companies at all - not just Hostmaker, not just this particular message - would be offensive to your policies even if it is not being overtly offensive to tenants.

Are you saying you are strongly taking this whole category of adverts off the TfL network?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

What is clear is that this particular company, Hostmaker, its adverts in the recent past were different to the adverts last year [2018], and there was a period of time where it had no adverts at all. These adverts are against, in my view - I am not the expert - TfL policy.

Photo of Siân Berry Siân Berry Green

With respect, Mr Mayor, the recent ones say, “My long-term tenant is terrible”, I think was the phrase, but last year [2018] the ones I first complained to you about in June were saying essentially, “Make 30% more money by using our platform, by kicking out your tenants”. Whatever they say, it is the concept of switching to a permanent Hostmaker-type service that is wrong.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I do not have the copies in front of me in relation to the proofs last year [2018] and this year [2019]. What I am clear about is encouraging hosts to break the law. It is not something we can condone or allow to happen on the TfL network. As I said in my answer, I have instructed TfL and TfL agreed not to have any more adverts from Hostmaker. We will see what the resolution of the meeting is between James Murray [Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development] and Hostmaker. I am quite clear that the combination of looking at the proof in the advert and the BBC footage demonstrates that these guys are encouraging hosts to break the law.

Photo of Siân Berry Siân Berry Green

They clearly are. I will keep monitoring that. While we have a minute, this case does bring up a wider issue that we have seen repeatedly to do with advertising. We have had a series of problems with adverts that have been targeted at Londoners and then stopped after they have caused outrage or harm. We have had issues with body discrimination, the high-fat foods, where you have policy now, oppressive regimes advertising.

Should we not firstly be doing something to review and strengthen the advertising policy more generally? Secondly, should we not be thinking about the justification as a whole for subjecting Londoners to so many corporate messages in their daily lives?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Chair, I should hang around with Sian [Berry AM] more because I am always attacked for going too far the other way.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

You will have heard Assembly Member Boff, who represents a considerable lobby, attacking me for interfering too much with the market. You are right. We have a responsibility as public servants, but also as somebody who is responsible for a massive estate. You will have seen in the last three years we have changed radically some of the things we do on the TfL estate. Have we always got it right? No. I am always willing to make progress and make changes that make it better, and I am always genuinely receptive to ideas to improve it.

Photo of Siân Berry Siân Berry Green

Are you up for a proactive review of the advertising policy to try to anticipate some of these things, rather than waiting for scandals?