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AirBnB's in London - Cautionary Tales

Updated: May 30

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I hadn't intended to write this post right now, but I am seeing so many issues that I feel it's necessary to bump it to the top of the content stack and hope it saves someone's London trip.


Let me first say that my family has successfully used short-term vacation services all over the place without any problems that were real problems. So, I know that MOST of the time, it goes just fine and everyone is happy. Most of the time, we just go with hotels but I always wish we had space to spread out, a kitchen and laundry facilities. They are super nice to have.


A living room
Our London Plum Guide flat - it was perfect for 2 couples

Also, let me say that when I say AirBnB, I am basically referring to any of the services that rent short term vacation flats and homes. There are many and I don't think ANY are immune from problems. AirBnB is the name I see most associated with London issues, though. I assume that's because it's probably the most widely used.


And finally, if you are a host reading this and screaming at me, let me acknowledge that there are as many bad customers as there are bad hosts. But, having bad customers doesn't leave you stranded with 3 kids and 5 suitcases on the street corner after a long flight or scrambling to find accommodations 5 days before the trip you had planned for a year. I'm speaking in this blog post about the hosts that ghost.


I want to say DO NOT USE AIRBNB IN LONDON, but I won't. What I WILL say is that if you take that chance, understand that you MAY be put in a very, very difficult position at the last minute if not THE minute you're supposed to be checking in. It's risky but some of us will take that risk. AirBnb's in London can be quite problematic.


First, a bit about London's laws surrounding short-term vacation stays and what AirBnB specifically does within the parameters of those laws.


Unless planning permission is obtained, Londoners are restricted to renting their property short term for a maximum of 90 nights in a calendar year.

There you have it. No one can legally rent out their property for more than 90 days a year WITHOUT approval from the local city government. They also must have the approval of the owner of the property if they are renting it themselves.


AirBnB DOES take down the listings when 90 days have been rented in a year. But, I recently heard of someone who rejected the inquiry for renting through AirBnB and then contacted the renter on the side offering to rent directly to them. I don't know if they were trying to get around the fees associated with AirBnB or the 90-day timer but the potential renter said, "No, thanks" to that proposition.


Other lesser-known rental companies have been caught on camera saying they just put up a new listing with new photos or a slightly altered address and "restart" the timer and throw off anyone looking to force compliance with the law.


Americans may not realize that most London short-term flats are actually someone's personal flat and not an investment property. They are surprised when they arrive to find medication in the cabinets, food in the fridge and the occasional cat or fish they have to feed.

I believe both the nature of the rental and the laws surrounding short-term rentals makes them very risky for travelers. I've spent a few weeks collecting horror stories of short-term/AirBnB rentals going sideways. Read on for a shortened version of a few of the worst:


  • I arrived at the flat very late at night only to find that my room had a tiny lock on it and there were others in other bedrooms I didn't know. We all shared one dirty bathroom and the lock would never have held so I pushed my bed against the door the first night. I did not stay more than one night and I found out later that this was a council (welfare) flat that wasn't legal to rent out as an AirBnB. Yet, that's where I rented it from.

  • We were a family of 7 who was supposed to meet the host's friend to let us in the flat. We arrived with tired kids and lots of luggage at the appointed time and no one was there. We waited an hour and he never showed up. We hadn't swapped out our sim cards and couldn't use our phones. We managed to find a taxi and the driver let us use his phone but we couldn't get hold of the host or his friend. AirBnB wasn't much help as they couldn't get hold of them, either. We spend almost our whole first day in London trying to find accommodations for all of us as the credits we got back from AirBnB weren't going to cut it at that short of notice. There wasn't much else available to us. We got scammed. Never again.

  • In December, I rented a flat through AirBnB for my Summer trip, but 2 days ago (it's now February), the host reached out and cancelled my reservation saying the flat had unexpected property damage and so they had to cancel. But, shortly thereafter, I see the flat listed for the same dates for THREE TIMES the price I reserved it for. The calendar was still full all through the rest of the Winter and Spring so apparently it was only me that got cancelled so they could relist for more money. AirBnB was unsympathetic to the issue.

  • I have had 5 hosts through AirBnB cancel on me including one who we talked to at 9 am that morning and never showed up leaving us stranded with our grandsons and trying to find a hotel.

  • We stood outside in the pouring rain with 2 small children for an hour trying to reach our host so we could get into the flat. When we finally did get her to answer, she hung up on us and then blocked us. Other residents coming in and out of the building said their building rules don't allow short term vacation rentals.

  • I'm already on my trip and due to arrive in London in 4 days and we just got cancelled. I don't have time to deal with this. HELP!

  • We booked NINE MONTHS ago and just got cancelled!

I could go on but I won't. You get the idea, right? I guess what you really have to decide is what your tolerance is for this potentially happening to you? For just me and my husband and the fact that we could find a hotel, it wouldn't be that big of a deal - although completely maddening and the company we rented through would be lit on fire by us later. But, if you are on your first trip to London, have small kids, lots of luggage (which you can almost never drop off early so you may have already been dragging it around with you for hours), are elderly or don't have a working phone at that moment, this can be a nightmare.


So, what's the answer? Honestly, if you want more peace of mind, rent through my HIGHLY recommended company PLUM GUIDE. They make every property go through a vetting process and they are the Super Hosts of the Super Hosts. PLUM GUIDE doesn't put up with shenanigans and, in the event something happens, they will actually help. Their properties are often on the pricier side, but the cheap short-term stays are often the biggest problems. We rented through Plum Guide in 2017 and stayed in a lovely flat near Paddington. The owner went to the Maldives while we were there. Her place was very nice. We had no problems at all and Plum Guide was in constant contact with us even during our stay. If you would like to book with Plum Guide, reach out to me and I can help you find a property or if you want to do it yourself, please put my agent code MCT-KG in the PARTNER CODE box at check-out so I will get credit for the stay. It costs you nothing to do and I would really appreciate it.


The second option is to book into a serviced flat. They are more like hotels but with the amenities of a flat. There are lots of very good choices for those in London and you'll rarely run into the same issues you do with a private flat. We have stayed at the Fraser Suites many times and it was always a great stay. You can look for these "apart-hotels" as they are sometimes called HERE. I have pre-selected that filter. Just change your dates and number of travelers across the top.


The third option would be to book yourself a cancelable hotel room at the same time you book the AirBnb. You'll have to make a reminder to cancel the room so you don't get charged for it. But, at least you'll have a backup - unless you get cancelled at the very last minute and have had to already cancel the room. It's not perfect, but it's a bit of comfort.


I hope I have given you something to think about when it comes to staying in short-term rental or AirBnB in London. I see people quickly recommend them all the time but they aren't always the cheapest option, the most convenient option or the safest option.



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