Holiday letting threat to MPs who vote for restrictions

As NSW edges towards changing its planning laws to accommodate Airbnb, and other states wait to see what form that takes, are we finally seeing shark teeth behind the online holiday letting agency’s broad Californian smile?

Last month (November) it was reported in another newspaper – and only there – that an Airbnb “survey” warned MPs that 30 percent of constituents would consider voting against them if they chose to curb  their activities.

Now, I have to confess previous convictions when it comes to Airbnb; I am not their favourite journalist, for very good reason.

Mostly, I worry about their behind the scenes push to force buildings currently zoned “residential only” to accept holiday lets of entire apartments.

However, I am not against what Airbnb say they want – ordinary people being able to let rooms in their homes to tourists.

Getting back to our now presumably nervous MPs, Airbnb has a record of pouring money into politics, such as the successful $8.3 million advertising campaign to block changes to the laws in San Francisco, or erroneously connecting a New York political opponent to an environmental scandal.

Here in Australia their political power is yet to be fully realised. The duchessing of the Victorian premier and his erstwhile Consumer Affairs minister led to legislation that was so pro-holiday lets (and anti-apartment residents) that it was tossed out by the upper house there

The report out just this week tweaking the proposed changes to the laws is still very much in favour of opening apartment blocks to largely unfettered holiday letting.  The so-called guests have to actively cause a problem – any consideration of intrusion into a sense of “home” is barely even considered.

In NSW, a similarly pro “innovation” inquiry led to laissez-faire proposals that were likewise ditched, leading to the public consultation process that has just ended.

So, should state MPs on either side of the border be concerned? Partly yes, but mostly no.

Even if 30 percent of voters really are thinking of not voting for MPs who don’t fully embrace the ‘sharing economy’, it’s not that big a deal.

The vast majority of voters don’t live in areas significantly affected by Airbnb. They’re much more likely to object to politicians in Barcelona or Berlin screwing up their holiday plans.

Also, only a minority of constituencies are seriously affected by Airbnb, albeit profoundly so.  Despite Airbnb’s dismissal of their findings, two Sydney University peer-reviewed reports have shown that high Airbnb activity pushes up rents and reduces housing availability.

Meanwhile, I am told residents in in our better-run apartment blocks are discussing other options, should the government force them to accept whole-home holiday lets.

Think legal challenges to council amalgamations and the abandoned greyhound racing ban and you get an idea of where this might end up.

Airbnb have been told privately that even if owners corporations (body corporates) are allowed to pass by-laws restricting holiday lets, apathy and inertia will probably hand the majority of unit blocks to them on a plate.

But, with pro-Airbnb website AirDNA revealing that the biggest Airbnb host in Australia made $5.3 million last year, the stakes are clearly too high to leave anything to chance.

This column previously appeared in The Australian Financial Review.

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