More short-stay abuse - with no recourse for residents

By Barbara Francis and Rus Littleson

Residents across Melbourne are reporting more horror stories of short-stay abuse – with little chance of any meaningful redress and still less of any resolution. 

In our previous column we reported the case of an enterprising resident who won a victory in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) – albeit pyrrhic.

This month we report three more stories of ongoing abuse where the current law provides no recourse for residents.

Resident story one – Older couple feels unsafe

“When we moved into our apartment we enjoyed our new lifestyle - until our peace and enjoyment started to erode as more and more short-stays took over our building.”

“Eventually one third of the building became short-stay. Our lives changed dramatically for the worse – lifts, foyers and corridors were taken over by large groups of noisy guests with luggage. Large cleaning trolleys caused damage to the lifts and corridors, all paid for out of owners’ corporation (OC) levies.”

“There was no sense of community or caring for the building or its residents. Some of the guests made us, as older residents, feel unsafe.”

“We felt we had no choice but to put our apartment on the market and move away. This meant a large financial loss.”

Resident story two – Damage, abuse, burglary

“The effects of Airbnb in my apartment building include an increase in cost for extra security and extra maintenance of the common areas of the building. Body corporate fees were increased to cover these extra costs.”

“The swimming pool area and the change rooms, sauna, and spa area were damaged and gym equipment misused. Entrance was limited to residents only, which resulted in the security guards being abused and one guard spat upon by a disgruntled Airbnb guest. Key fobs were copied and sold on E-bay.”

“Airbnb guests used this unauthorised access to burgle an apartment. This matter was handled by the police. We have been forced to upgrade all fobs to deal with this security issue.”

Resident story three – Abuse, rubbish, sexual services

A resident in a third apartment tower reported a series of disturbing incidents occurring over the previous four-year period as an owner occupier. This resident always suffered from at least one Airbnb apartment on his floor and one directly above which constantly leaked water through his ceiling, the result of poor maintenance of the Airbnb apartment. 

“One owner bragged at an annual general meeting (AGM) about operating 20 apartments as short-stays and wanting to add more to his portfolio,” the resident said. 

“Drunken short-stay guests banged on my door mistaking my apartment for their short-stay because the floor layouts are similar - and became abusive when told of their mistake.”

“Bottles, rubbish and dirt are routinely left all over the lobbies and corridors, especially bad on party nights – Friday, Saturday, Sunday - and on every holiday or long weekend.”  

“Lobbies and lifts are perpetually clogged with bags and suitcases; there is a constant stream of strangers moving in and out of short-stay apartments every day of the week.”

“Short-stay apartment cleaners, going from floor to floor, apartment to apartment, carrying racks of swipe cards and keys can access virtually any floor of a supposedly ‘secure’ building; In all likelihood these cleaners are paid cash-in-hand without any background checks. The building is basically a free-for-all hotel. The basement storage cages are frequently burgled and damaged.” 

“The lack of consequences for the anti-social short-stay industry seems to have emboldened the worst elements in our society – apartments in this building are used as illegal boarding houses and even as brothels”.

Meanwhile, local councils take the lead

While the state government continues to bury its head in the sand about the dire impact of short-stays, two local councils have responded to community outrage and introduced new laws to regulate the industry.

Mornington Peninsula Shire Council has introduced a comprehensive Local Law that requires short-stay operators to register and pay an annual fee and to follow a code of conduct, with a provision for heavy fines and banning delinquent owners. The law covers communication with neighbours, noise limits and anti-social behaviour. 

The Council says it has a zero-tolerance approach to party houses and will prosecute anyone who breaks the new rules. 

Since the new law was introduced in 2018 more than 3000 owners have registered their “homes” as short-stay properties and 111 infringement notices have been issued.

In 2019 the first two owners were successfully prosecuted: one guilty of four offences was fined $1500 and another guilty of 19 offences was fined $2700 and compelled to sign a court undertaking. 

Mornington Peninsula Shire Mayor David Gill said, “Council takes this kind of act very seriously and will deal with property owners failing to comply with the Short Stay Rental Accommodation Local Law”.

“These businesses operate in our residential neighbourhoods and anti-social and rowdy behaviour is not acceptable.”

Neighbouring Frankston City Council very recently passed its own local laws to regulate short stay rental properties, to allow the Council to “ensure an appropriate standard of management for short stay rental accommodation, to minimise the risk of nuisance to neighbouring properties.”

Frankston short-stay owners will be charged an annual registration fee of $150 and failure to register could result in a fine of up to $2000. An owner’s registration may be cancelled after three substantiated complaints or a single “severe” complaint.

Frankston City Council Mayor, Sandra Mayer, claims the Local Laws were needed to give the council remedies “currently not covered under any other legislation.”

That both Frankston and Mornington Peninsula Councils have been compelled to introduce their own Local Laws because the state laws are so inadequate is a ludicrous situation, and the state government has to step up and stop passing the buck to local councils.

We Live Here will continue to lobby for regulation of the short-stay industry until the government is shamed into doing something about it, and catch up with the rest of the world.

Thank you to those of you who have contributed the stories included in our previous two columns. We shall include more on short-stays in later columns, but next month we shall turn our attention to the rorts perpetuated by developers and others, and concerns that even if the proposed new legislation sees the light of day it will deal adequately with many of the issues highlighted by our readers.

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