Housing crisis prompts council action on short-stays
The City of Melbourne is the latest Victorian local council looking at doing what it can to mitigate the growing number of short-stay apartments in its municipality in a bid to open the market to more long-term renters in the city.
At their August 29 meeting, councillors voted in favour of introducing an annual registration fee of $350 per property and a 180-day cap on the number of days a property can be leased for short-stay accommodation per year.
The policy position adopted by the council recognised a “need to track and regulate the short-term rental accommodation industry to relieve a tight housing rental market by increasing the availability of housing being used for longer-term homes for people”.
Council management will now begin a consultation process with the community and stakeholders to inform the draft local law with a report to come back to councillors in November.
The City of Melbourne is home to one of the biggest short-term rental markets in Australia, with council data showing around 4100 active short-term rental listings, which represents around 14 per cent of the city’s residential properties.
The overwhelming majority of these properties (84 per cent) are located in the CBD, Docklands, Southbank and Carlton.
However, Inside Airbnb lists much higher figures than the council’s data, currently showing there to be more than 6700 active properties on the short-stay market in the municipality.
With the motion endorsed by councillors on August 29, the council says it will consult extensively with the community and key stakeholders, including short-term rental owners and operators, on any new policy options for the sector. Any new regulation would not be introduced until February 2024.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the options under consideration represented an “important step to address the housing crisis and increase the number of homes available to our residents, students and key workers”.
“We are in a housing crisis,” Cr Capp said. “Every home that becomes available matters. That’s why we’re looking to encourage property owners to move into the long-term rental market.”
As Australia’s fastest growing city, we are considering all options that will deliver more housing – and the quickest way to do that is to utilise housing that is already in place.
“Based on benchmarking from other capital cities and municipalities, an annual registration fee for short-term rental properties may be set at $350, and a short-term rental cap may be set at 180 days.”
If successful, the City of Melbourne would join the Bass Coast and Warnambool Shires, as well as Frankston and Mornington Peninsula Councils to introduce such measures as an annual registration fee.
Other metropolitan councils including City of Port Phillip and City of Yarra are also currently investigating options to deal with short-stays.
Deputy Lord Mayor and the council’s planning portfolio chair Cr Nicholas Reece said compared with other Australian cities, the proposed changes represented a “light touch approach” and that there was “ample capacity” in the city’s hotels.
“I will also just highlight the fact of there being more than 10,000 new hotel rooms that have come online in the last few years. We’ve got 1200 under construction and so there is ample capacity in our hotel industry for welcoming thousands and thousands of new tourists,” he said.
“So, it’s not the beginning of the journey, but it’s an important next step.”
President of local residents’ group East Enders Dr Stan Capp, who is also a committee member of Residents 3000, told CBD News he supported the council’s goal of freeing up more accommodation and deterring short-stay operators from disrupting residents’ amenity.
“In pursuit of this goal, increased regulation, and a code of conduct on owners of short-stay accommodation seems totally appropriate,” Dr Capp said.
“In this process, recognising the variable effects of short-stay accommodation on longer term residents in apartment towers is also relevant. The disruptive effects both potential and real on residents who care deeply about the maintenance and ambience of their buildings cannot be ignored.”
Accountability for any additional maintenance or costs that are incurred by owners’ corporations as a result of inappropriate behaviour by short term guests also seems reasonable.
“Similarly, there needs to be tangible consequences for anti-social behaviour that is observed and reported. These should be part of any code of conduct.”
Senior director government and corporate affairs at accommodation platform Stayz Eacham Curry said the move by the council would “only limit accommodation options for tourists and income for mum and dad retirees”.
“Introducing new fees or restrictions on the number of nights short-term rentals can operate will not introduce more homes to the long-term rental market in Melbourne,” he said.
“Stayz supports fit-for-purpose regulation of the short-term rental sector. We have consistently advocated for a state-wide registration process, a mandatory code of conduct, and an industry-funded industry body to adjudicate community issues. We urge the Victorian Government to introduce sensible regulation without sacrificing tourism or leaving these issues up to councils like City of Melbourne to solve on their own.”
The state government is currently considering a tourism levy on short-stay accommodation, with recent reports suggesting a rate as high as 7.5 per cent is on the table, which is expected to generate at least $40 million in annual revenue for the state.
But the Victorian Tourism Industry Council (VTIC) and some local business groups have argued the proposal would be a major impediment to the sector’s post-pandemic recovery, while doing little to solve the housing crisis.
Eacham Curry said a consumer-facing levy as high as 7.5 per cent was “ill-conceived” and didn’t represent “the best or most equitable way” to address concerns around the impacts of short-stays.
Speaking at the council meeting on August 29, Cr Rohan Leppert said while the government’s proposed “tourism tax” was “shorthand” for generating revenue from the short-stay accommodation, he hoped the council’s initiative could help “unlock some doors at Spring St”.
“Other cities around the world don’t have that dearth of regulation, and they know the difference between a short-stay and a long-stay apartment,” Cr Leppert said.
“Wouldn’t it be a good thing if after we signal our own intention to enter this space, that the council and the state can partner on how we can ensure that as government generally enters regulating this space, it does so in a way that both levels of government are completely aware of, and are complementing the work that each other is doing?”
“I also hope that we can unlock some doors at Spring St and figure out how regulating this space across two levels of government works efficiently, not just in the interests of government, but above all, in the interest of the public.” •
For more information: participate.melbourne.vic.gov.au/short-term-accommodation