A lookback at what’s been happening

By We Live Here

Whilst we wait for the Victorian Government’s response to the recommendations of the Parliamentary Inquiry into short-stays, it is perhaps timely to review what has been happening around the country and overseas.

In May we reported that the NSW Government had swept aside the recommendations of a parliamentary report and announced a new consultative process to decide how short-stays will be regulated.

The discarded report had recommended a massive increase in short-term holiday rentals in apartment buildings. But the NSW Minister for Planning and Regulation and the Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, in a joint statement in April said that “broader engagement with the industry and the community was needed”, and that the NSW Government was “focused on finding a common ground that effectively addresses the concerns with everyone involved”.

From this evolved an Options Paper released by the NSW Ministers in July, which acknowledged that short-term letting “has the potential to generate impacts on the community if not adequately managed. These impacts could include noise, waste, traffic and parking, safety and security, and the potential impact on housing and broader industry in general”.

The Ministers’ paper also stated: “There is a point where STHL [short-term holiday letting] becomes a more intensive commercial type of use.”

The Ministers said: “The rights of residents who live near these properties must be considered too.”

This was the first indication that an Australian state government was starting to understand the plight of residents living in strata communities. We hope that the Victorian Government will follow suit.

At the municipal level, the City of Sydney has a history of seeking to regulate the industry because of its “fundamental incompatibility”. The council’s position was articulated in the NSW Land and Environment Court:

“There is a fundamental incompatibility between the proposed mix of residential and serviced apartments that share the same floor levels and access points, in consideration of the difference in behaviour, living and activity patterns of long-term residents compared to short-term occupants, and the greater expectations of long-term residents for quiet amenity and care for the building through a greater sense of ownership, accountability and permanence compared to temporary residents.” (Council of the City of Sydney v Oaks Hotels and Resorts (NSW) No.2 Pty Limited [2011] NSW Land and Environment Court 235).

Meanwhile major cities including Berlin, Vancouver, Paris and New York are all introducing new laws to curb commercial short-stay operations in strata buildings.

Will the Victorian Government learn from global experiences?

As reported in Docklands News in 2015, former local member and failed Melbourne Labor candidate, Jennifer Kanis, went to the election pledging to retrospectively legislate short-stays out of existence. Today, We Live Here is asking for the industry to be regulated, and for the interests of long-term residents to be protected by acknowledging the differences between living in freestanding homes and living in strata buildings.

We Live Here believes owners’ corporations should have the right of self-determination – that is, the ability to pass and enforce rules about use of lot that was lost in the 2016 Supreme Court decision of Justice Riorden. This might restrict (not prohibit) commercial short-stay accommodation but any rule would need to be passed by a special resolution (75 per cent of lot owners must agree).

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.

Airbnb threatened?

Airbnb must be feeling threatened. The multi-billion dollar global company has taken to describing community calls for regulation of the industry as being from “so-called” community groups “often funded by the hotel lobby”. Sorry Airbnb, We Live Here is solely funded by donations from long-term residents in strata buildings.

Airbnb has also cast aspersions on apartment residents being Australians who cannot afford a house. Brent Thomas, head of public policy for Airbnb told the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Short-stays that a whole generation of Australians, particularly older Australians “will only ever be able to afford to live in strata buildings, particularly in the big cities” – ignoring the fact that millions of Australians have chosen an apartment lifestyle – largely before the advent of the large-scale commercial short-stay industry began to have an impact on their homes.

Meanwhile in New Zealand, Airbnb is on the back foot following a fire in a Christchurch Airbnb, which injured six guests. They are now offering 36,000 free smoke detectors to hosts, to be refunded out of future earnings.

This is a timely reminder that short-stay and Airbnb operators renting out their properties may be liable for accidents affecting paying guests because a business transaction is involved.

Cladding update

The ABC’s Four Corners program on September 11 about the dangers of inflammable cladding can still be seen on iView.

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