Flammable cladding: residents ignored 

By We Live Here

The Victorian Government Cladding Taskforce examining flammable cladding does not include a key stakeholder group – the strata owners that would end up having to manage any remediation works. 

We Live Here, as the state’s major residents’ group representing more than 200 apartment buildings, says owners’ corporations need to have a voice at the table.

More than one million people in Victoria live in strata buildings, which is about 25 per cent of all people in the state, and We Live Here already represents some of the largest buildings.

We Live Here is calling to be included in the Victorian Cladding Taskforce, which is examining non-compliant cladding following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London.

There are fears the dangerous material could be present in apartments across the city, with a similar material contributing to a fire in a Docklands building in 2014.

We Live Here is the largest group representing people that might be at risk, and if owners’ corporations can’t be individually included in the process, We Live Here should be.

The co-chair of the taskforce, former Labor deputy premier John Thwaites, has put on the record that there’s widespread non-compliance of the building code across Australia.

As residents, we are the ones at risk, and we are going to be involved in the fix one way or the other, so we should be consulted.

The Victorian Government says its taskforce will make recommendations to improve compliance and enforcement of building regulations, to better protect the health and safety of residents.

We Live Here has been trying to work with the government to improve health and safety for residents in Victorian apartments for two years.

Our group was formed by residents to fight the rapid, unregulated rise of short-stay accommodation in apartments, but our issues have now grown well beyond that.

It’s time the government started looking at owners’ corporations as policy partners instead of simply people to be regulated.

Airbnb escapes tax time crackdown 

Commercial short-stay companies like Airbnb will deprive Victorians of more than $14 million in unpaid GST this year.

Airbnb, and similar operators, only collect GST on the 5 per cent to 15 per cent “service fee”, rather than the entire booking cost. This means the state misses out on up to 95 per cent of the GST applicable under current legislation.

But conversely – or perversely – this year “hosts” will pick up an extra bill, with the Australian Tax Office signalling a tax crackdown on “hosts”.

It’s hardly fair that Airbnb gets out of paying millions in GST, while mum and dad hosts who simply rent a room, are not only subject to income tax but actually being targeted by the tax office.

How on earth can a person renting out a room in their house be considered to be running an income–producing business, while on the other hand, the multinational rental company doesn’t have to pay its fair share of tax?

Victorians are missing out on millions of dollars every year, while Airbnb’s profits continue to grow, and that’s where the focus should be.

Airbnb alone had 651,000 guests last year and grew at a rate of 116 per cent. It’s only fair that legislation is updated to recognise the rise of this unregulated industry, so Airbnb pays its share, along with other overseas companies.

Airbnb admits other countries require the company to collect GST on the entire booking cost, so why isn’t it happening here?

The industry also avoids commercial rates from being imposed by local councils, by relying on their land use activity being classified as a residential activity.

Come on. Airbnb is not a residential activity. It’s a business activity and a loud, disruptive, unregulated and unfair one at that!

A parliamentary committee examining the commercial short-stay industry heard a range of submissions, calling for Airbnb, and similar overseas companies, to pay GST and other taxes.

The Committee has also made a series of recommendations to the Victorian Government, including that it:

Considers that the current proposed legislation is unfair to residents and should be reworked;

Works with Victoria Police to examine safety issues in residential complexes with short-stay activity;

Works with Victoria Police to consider establishing protocols to manage violent and disruptive incidents;

Reviews the regulatory imbalance between the short-stay and traditional accommodation sectors; and

Investigates costs and benefits of introducing a registration and compliance framework for commercial-residential short-stay accommodation (where properties are listed as short-stays for more than 90 days).

We Live Here is a growing movement of residents from across Victoria, dealing with significant detrimental impacts due to the rapid, unregulated rise of the commercial short-stay industry.

The concerns relate to safety and security, higher maintenance costs due to increased wear and tear, and disruption through “party houses”.

Clearly, the government needs to act on these concerns and bring legislation into line for this massive industry. We need a solution which puts residents, businesses and the tourism industry on a level playing field.

Ensuring these giant overseas companies pay their fair share of tax on the millions they make in Victoria, is just one of many issues that require urgent attention when it comes to the commercial short-stay industry.

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You can also reach us at [email protected]. We Live Here members can make a presentation to your owners’ corporation committee upon request.

We welcome your comments and feedback, and invite suggestions for topics you would like us to address in this column.

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