OXFORD City Council is looking to wrestle back control of a town hall flat which is being advertised on Airbnb against its wishes.

The council - which has previously spoken out against short-term let websites like Airbnb - let out the two-bedroom apartment at Oxford Town Hall to a city estate agent.

Now it says it is ‘very unhappy indeed’ over the way it has been used and is looking at whether it can take legal action to get it back.

Jericho estate agents James C Penny, which has the lease on the flat, said it is 'hugely confused' by the council's stance, while an opposition councillor has said the situation was ‘ridiculous’ and caused by the council renting the flat out in the first place.

Also read: Oxford City Council raises concerns over short term lets

The apartment, which was previously used by the town hall’s caretaker, has an entrance in Blue Boar Street.

Oxford Mail:

Inside it is decked out with stylish period furniture befitting the Grade II*-listed building.

The Airbnb listing boasts: "The town hall apartment is totally unique, there is no other place like it to our knowledge.

"It is a large two-bedroom apartment with two double rooms and a large lounge/ diner... the rooms/ hallways give the apartment a spacious feel and the views from the lounge are particularly nice."

Oxford Mail:

As well as Bosch kitchen appliances including a dishwasher, the apartment has a wall-mounted LED TV with a SKY TV package, wi-fi and even a Playstation 3.

JCP took control of the flat in July 2014 for a 15-year period. It is understood to be paying the council £15,000 a year, and there is no stipulation that it cannot be rented on Airbnb.

However in February, the council urged a clampdown on Airbnb over worries some flats in the city were being used as 'pop-up' brothels associated with sex trafficking and reports of parties with up to 100 guests suddenly appearing in residential areas.

Also read: Oxford City Council says holiday rentals being used as pop-up brothels

There is no suggestion such behaviour is taking place in the town hall but it is embarrassing for the council to see such a prestigious asset advertised on a website – and others like it – that it has been so critical of.

Oxford Mail:

Ed Turner, the council’s executive board member for finance and asset management, said: "When the council agreed the lease with James C Penny, we did not expect the flat to be used for short-term lets in this way.

“Unfortunately the law does not permit the city council to let the flat out on an assured shorthold tenancy directly, which is why the decision was taken to offer it to an agency instead.”

Oxford Mail:

He added: “We are very unhappy indeed about the way the flat is being used. We are exploring legal avenues to get the flat back to the council. If this is not viable, we will take the property back at the earliest possible moment by ending the lease.”

It is understood that the council has a five-year break clause in the 15-year contract – but that it would like to take flat back before 2019 if possible.

The amount the estate agent is seeking to recoup varies significantly on how long people might want to rent it for.

Also Read: St Giles public toilet set to be converted to B&B

On an Airbnb page, the flat is advertised at £275 per night in one advert but £195 in another.

On the agency's own website, it is advertised at £975 per week and £2,750 per month.

It is also advertised on the TripAdvisor website for £275 per night, on Rightmove for £975 per week and on TheHouseShop for £2,750 per month.

Craig Simmons, the Green Party’s group leader on Oxford City Council, said the authority had ‘let down the taxpayer and residents’ by renting out the flat to JCP Estate Agents.

He said renting it out in 2014 had worked in a small way to ‘push up rents’ and that it was now ‘suffering the consequences’ of decisions made four years ago.

Oxford Mail:

Step this way: the Blue Boar Street entrance to Oxford Town Hall.

JCP's Stanley Khan said: "How [the council] can say they didn't know we were doing short-term lets, I don't know: we met the town hall manager, it was always our intention to use it for short-term lets."

He added: "It's hugely confusing where they have got this after all these years."

Mr Khan said the flat was unsuitable for longer lets, in part because of noise generated from functions in the town hall.

Reviews left on its Airbnb page from people who have rented the flat are mixed.

In one, a reviewer praises the ‘excellent’ location but says the flat ‘needs a bit of investment’. She claimed the oven was not working when her family stayed there and that they suffered ‘issues’ with a TV. She concluded ‘a bit more effort needs to be put in’ .

Another said they were happy with the location and that they enjoyed the ‘friendly’ host and ‘lovely’ views. A third visitor said their daughters ‘felt like they were staying the Gryffindor common room at Hogwarts’.

Oxford Town Hall is a Grade II* listed building and hosts more than 2,000 events each year, according to the city council.

It was opened by the Prince of Wales in May 1897 and £3.2m – much of it lottery money – will be plugged into the Museum of Oxford on the ground floor.