Airbnb out-of-towners have ruined my chocolate-box village

·4-min read
Abigail Butcher - Christopher Pledger
Abigail Butcher - Christopher Pledger

Illicit couples who stay in bed all weekend, raucous groups of Hooray Henries drinking rosé in the garden, football fans watching matches loudly on their phones lying on a sun lounger, music-lovers who party until 4am… these are just some of the antics I’ve been subjected to while living next to a cottage rented out for short-term lets.

It might sound like innocuous behaviour to some, especially those living in a flat with neighbours all round, but in a sleepy rural village it is incredibly anti-social and disruptive – particularly because there has seemed no end in sight. So I for one welcome the news that Rishi Sunak wants to clamp down on rowdy Airbnb guests and owners as part of a strategy to tackle anti-social behaviour.

I live in a detached cottage in an isolated village on the Dorset/Hampshire/Wiltshire border. I wanted my own space and moved far out of commutable distance of London to be able to afford it.

The village is nowhere near anything remotely touristy, filled with residents who live and work locally, so quite unusual by today’s standards. But at the same time as I bought my house in 2020, a couple of local properties — thatched, chocolate-box idylls — were sold to second homers. It was the pandemic and they assured everyone they would be working from home, but as life returned to normal so the holidaymakers arrived.

Most guests come from cities – you can tell instantly by their inability to drive a car up the steep hill to the cottage, let alone their attire. And that’s fine, except that while they’re attracted by the location it seems few actually want to listen to the sound of the birds, watch the sun set or enjoy the darkness (we are in a Dark Skies Reserve). While some guests are lovely, and leave remarking how lucky we are to live in the area full time, most use the property to party the nights away, lights and music blaring and booze flowing. Which makes it hard to sleep in a village where you can hear a pin drop.

Another of the local rental properties has a hot tub in its garden, so things could be worse for me, but locals ask each other why it seems OK for people to holiday here and not consider their neighbours and surroundings. I’m a travel writer and just returned from Norway where there is a right to roam anywhere, because the community is one built on respect and trust.

There’s no doubt that the presence of holidaymakers bolsters the local economy – guests eat in the pubs and homeowners employ local housekeepers, builders, carpenters and gardeners. Renting property has of course provided a valuable income stream in a market where, until recently, interest rates have been pitiful – and people should be allowed to invest. But more accountability is long overdue, so the legislation proposed by the government that will help councils crack down on disorderly behaviour, hot on the heels of that currently being drafted in record time in Brussels by the European Commission, is exactly what we need.

I used to rent my own house in the seaside town of Lymington on Airbnb, but it was my home, not an investment, and I stopped after growing sick of returning home to wine spillages on walls and carpets, crockery and furniture breakages and pipes blocked with wet wipes and make-up pads. Airbnb was always very good at compensating me for damage – I once had to have the entire downstairs repainted – but they can only do so much.

My current and previous houses are Grade II Listed and it worries me that some of Britain’s most beautiful properties, which need nurturing on a daily basis with condensation wiped and windows opened, are being used as glorified hotels. Meanwhile those who were born and raised locally can no longer afford to live in the area and enjoy the countryside of dreams. Country life itself is under threat: in my village, we have a rota to look after the church and greet everyone we meet out walking regardless of whether we know them, but such traditions won’t survive if every house is turned into a holiday crash pad.

Home owners can only dictate so much from their guests – short of keeping a 24-hour watch on them – but a licensing system with a cap on the amount of time a property can be let in the short term, along with penalties for those who don’t tow the line, will be a good start.

Responsibility, however, ultimately lies with the holidaymaker. Anti-social behaviour by Brits – whether it’s binge drinking on the Costa del Sol or keeping our village awake all night with a wild party – is not welcome anywhere. The sooner we wake up and start to realise that, the better.

Is where you live inundated with Airbnb rentals? Let us know in the comments what impact that has had