Ministers step back from short-term letting report

Planning Minister Anthony Roberts and (below) Innovation & Better Regulation Minister Matt Kean

The NSW Government has stepped back from a Parliamentary report into proposed regulations for Airbnb-style online holiday letting agencies and will produce a position paper next month, following broader consultation with stakeholders and the community.

The government had been due to table a positions paper on Wednesday April 18, in response to a report into holiday letting legislation.

Instead they posted broad-strokes notes that gave unqualified support to only three of its 12 recommendations and announced that “an options paper with approaches to implement a whole of government framework will be released for consultation.”

While the other nine recommendations had “qualified support”, how qualified and how much support they had was hard to discern.

In what many apartment residents will see as at least a partial victory, it effectively questions the main proposal to make holiday lets “complying developments”, which would have removed the legal basis on which apartment blocks currently pass by-laws excluding short-stay or holiday rentals.

The inquiry into holiday letting legislation was launched almost two years ago, prompted by Airbnb hosts being threatened with $1 million-plus local council fines for running illegal businesses in their homes.

However, since then Airbnb has grown exponentially in Australia and recently announced that Sydney is among its top five cities, in terms of usage, in the world

As a result, Planning Minister Anthony Roberts and Innovation and Better Regulation Minister Matt Kean have called for more consultation with key stakeholders to get a more up-to-date picture.

“The inquiry recommendations make sense, but the regulation of short-term letting needs broader engagement with the industry and the community to establish a model that enables it to continue to flourish and innovate whilst ensuring the amenity and safety of users and the wider community are protected,” says Mr Roberts.

“It’s sensible to take time on a complex issue like this, which is why we are releasing an options paper next month.”

“We don’t want a holiday accommodation market that’s so over-regulated it puts people off coming here but the rights of residents who live near these properties must be considered too,” says Mr Kean.

“While short-term holiday letting, if properly managed and respected by all parties, can be a boost to the local economy, the need to protect people’s rights to the quiet enjoyment of their own homes is equally important.”

The phrase “quiet enjoyment” recurs in strata by-laws; its use is a clear signal to apartment residents that they have not been forgotten. And there were other clues that ministers have stepped back from recommendations that would have allowed a massive increase in short-term holiday letting in apartment blocks.

 

 

Both critics and supporters of the Coure Report recommendations have welcomed the government’s decision to consult more broadly with stakeholders.

Airbnb, who have previously said they were happy both to take part in the inquiry and looked forward to its recommendations forming a framework for fair regulations, were positive in their response.

“We welcome the NSW Government’s decision to support innovation and home sharing, and to move to the final stage of consultation about balanced regulations in this state,” said Sam McDonagh, Airbnb Australia Country Manager.

“Today’s announcement, which supports the parliamentary committee’s report and recommendations, is a strong, positive step towards ensuring fair and progressive rules and regulation for residents and visitors to NSW who make the most of home sharing.“

“We will continue to work closely with the state Government and industry stakeholders to provide certainty to thousands of everyday NSW residents, and ensure they can continue to open their homes to travellers from around the world, while adhering to regulations that are clear, simple and easy to understand.”

Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich, 70 percent of whose constituents live in apartments, sees the call for further discussion as an indication that the government is listening to the concerns of strata communities.

“It’s clear from the many constituents and various stakeholders who have engaged with both the government and myself, that further consultation is needed to ensure strata communities are empowered to make decisions for their buildings, while also acknowledging the role accommodation providers like AirBnB can play in a global city,” he told Domain.

“In parliament the Minister [Matt Kean] has demonstrated his respect for strata communities and stressed the importance of protecting people’s rights to the quiet enjoyment of their own homes.”

Leading strata lawyer Stephen Goddard, spokesman for the apartment owners lobby group Owners Corporation Network and its campaign Our Strata Community Our Choice said the decision to consult further gave the government a chance to correct a fundamental error in the original inquiry.

“We look forward to a more detailed consultation on how to manage short-term letting in apartment buildings,” he told Domain.

“Apartment owners deserve the right to decide if short-term rentals are permitted within our strata communities and if so on what basis it is permitted.”

The hotel industry, facing increased competition from online letting agencies like Airbnb, was also glad to be given the chance to put their case again.

“TAA looks forward to further consultation with government to ensure a resolution is reached that ensures the sustainability of the commercial accommodation sector which currently injects $2.3 billion directly into the economy, contributes $4.5 billion in consumption, and directly and indirectly employs over 80,000 people across NSW,” says Carol Giuseppi, CEO of Tourism Accommodation Australia.

“It is important that investor confidence is sustained as Sydney is currently undergoing the largest-ever expansion of its hotel sector, with the 40 hotels and 8000 rooms under development or in planning set to inject over $4 billion into the local economy and create thousands of sustainable jobs.”

However there is concern in the holiday rental industry that the government might move too far in the other direction, especially with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

“Short term rental accommodation is a key driver of tourism in rural and regional NSW,” said  Jordan Condo, Director of Corporate Affairs for online holiday letting agency Stayz. “Stayz remains steadfastly opposed to any measures that restrict short-term rental options outside of metropolitan Sydney.”

Stayz and the Tourist Association of Australia shocked observers recently when they issued a joint statement calling for curbs on holiday letting of residential homes in city areas.

The statement called on the government to introduce “restrictions on short-term rentals in residential buildings in metropolitan areas in order to mitigate the effects that such rentals have on housing affordability and accessibility.”

Airbnb has also shifted its position of late. Two weeks ago a spokesman told Domain the company supports limits on commercial lets of apartments.

“So long as regulations protect the rights of house and apartment owners to share the homes they live in, we’re supportive of steps which discourage Sydney properties from being used exclusively for short term rentals in urban Sydney,” said Ben McConaghy.

“Consistent with the Parliamentary Report’s recommendations, we’re open to a solution that treats investment properties differently to primary residences.”

The government shouldn’t take too long in its next round of consultations – the landscape is clearly changing fast.

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About the Author:

JimmyT - the T stands for Thomson - has been writing the Flat Chat column in Domain in the Sydney Morning Herald for the past 12 years. He also appears regularly on radio on the James Valentine show on ABC 702 radio. Jimmy is also an author (of 10 published books) and a TV scriptwriter (three broadcast series) and writes travel articles for whoever will publish them

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