The sharing economy shouldn’t become the taking economy

By Ellen Sandell 

Melbourne MLA

A lot has been said about the new "sharing economy", where people can share or lease their assets that would potentially go unused, like cars, rooms or entire houses.  

The skyrocketing popularity of sharing economy services like Uber and AirBnB shows that there is a demand for these services and that they are here to stay.

But we must not let the “sharing economy” become the “taking economy” or the “exploiting economy”.

Many CBD and Docklands residents have shared their concerns with me about short-stay apartments taking over their communities, sometimes facilitated by AirBnB.

I am not opposed to the sharing economy. In our resource-constrained world, we need to better share our assets and it’s great to find new, innovative ways of doing this. However, sometimes, platforms like AirBnB can be exploited and used to get around tax and regulations, and impact adversely on residents.

Many residents were sold apartments in the CBD, Southbank and Docklands with the vision that they would get to live in a lovely high-rise community with all the benefit that that provides, including their neighbours being close by and being close to the city.

Many of these residents were shocked when they moved into their apartments and discovered that up to 50 per cent of the apartments in their buildings, sometimes more, were being leased out for just two or three nights a week to different tenants each week.

This meant that their sense of community and the long-term neighbours they hoped to get to know did not eventuate. It meant things like long waits for the lifts as cleaners ferried linen up and down the building every day. It meant communal property like lifts had to be replaced much more than normal at the expense of the permanent residents and the owners’ corporations, because they were not actually designed for the extra traffic associated with constant short-stay guests. It meant extra security concerns as a result of these extra short-stay guests who were unknown to the permanent residents.

It also impacts on housing affordability, as people buy apartments specifically to lease out to short-term guests full-time, meaning fewer properties are available to renters or owner-occupiers. This pushes up the price of housing for people who need to live in our city, like essential workers, and those on lower incomes.

This problem is not unique to Melbourne, but unfortunately Melbourne has not had a government willing to deal with the issue.

Other cities have grappled with this problem, and some have sought to introduce laws that balance the rights of residents to participate in the sharing economy while also addressing housing affordability and the challenges of short-stay accommodation.

For example, San Francisco and Seattle are considering laws that would put a cap on the number of days a resident can rent out their property to short-stay tenants over the course of a year, and restrict it to just genuine permanent residents. This would stop people buying apartments solely for the purpose of putting them on AirBnB full-time, but still allow people to put their apartments on AirBnB when they occasionally go on holidays.

Ideas like this could also be effective solutions to the challenges we face here in Victoria, but unfortunately the Labor Government has refused to look at them.

I’ve presented a motion on this issue to the Victorian Parliament which has remained on the Notice Paper for months, with Labor refusing to allow a debate on it.  Their only solution has been the patchy Owners Corporations Amendment (Short Stay Accommodation) Bill 2016.

Labor’s Bill puts the onus on residents to complain to their owners’ corporation which in turn could take action at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). VCAT then would not be able to take meaningful action against owners or occupiers until there are at least three complaints in a two-year period. That’s even assuming an owner’s corporation does anything with a complaint in the first place.

The Labor Government has to take responsibility for legislating for short-stay accommodation because it is a state-wide problem, not one limited to one building or neighbourhood.  Labor’s Bill puts the burden of tackling issues that arise with short stays on residents. Its Bill doesn’t prevent problems – it’s a complaints mechanism at best.

The Greens sought to have this Bill deferred until proper consultation was done with the community on this issue, but both Labor and the Liberals voted against this idea.

We must do better. Our governments should find ways to deal with these issues, because fundamentally it’s about creating the kind of city we want to live in – one where we foster community, just not private profit.

As The Greens’ spokesperson for housing and consumer affairs, I’m very happy to hear your concerns about short-stay accommodation in the CBD, Docklands, or any other issue for that matter.  Don’t hesitate to get in touch on 9328 4637 or [email protected]

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