Not in our block: Airbnb shock in Sydney city survey

It’s not exactly a U-turn but City of Sydney seem likely to make a significant shift in their thinking about short-term holiday letting in apartment buildings.

And it’s all because they have taken the radical step of asking apartment owners and residents (including tenants) what they think.

It’s safe to say the results are not going to please Airbnb.  Most of us, it seems, support the idea of apartment residents being able to let a room to a Swedish backpacker while the tenant or owner is there to make sure they behave themselves.

However, most of us also object to apartment blocks, particularly the well-run ones, being exploited by people who don’t give a crap about our lives and just want to take advantage of our hard work to line their pockets by running commercial holiday lets to people they never meet.

Go figure!

There are really very few surprises in the CoS survey, summarised below and available for download here.  Older apartment owners are less likely to support commercial holiday lets, younger tenants are more likely to give them the thumbs up.

The vast majority of respondents are not that concerned about people letting rooms in their flats when they are there – or even letting the whole unit once or twice a year when they are on holiday (what we call the family, friends and cat-sitter option).

But respondents were evenly split about whether or not owners should be allowed to pass by-laws banning short-term letting.  However, it’s fair to say that this was skewed towards renters while owners-occupiers and investors arguably have more “skin” in this game, as their apartment represent a major investment of time and money as well as being their homes.

Also, renters are naturally averse to their owner neighbours being able to create their own rules that affect their lives.

In fact 24 and 23 percent of owner-occupiers and investors respectively listed short-term letting as a concern while only 10 per cent of tenants ticked that box. Resident owners listed short-term letting right up with building defects and maintenance as their major concern (the latter they shared with tenants).  Investors’ biggest worry by far was parking.

In the City of Sydney’s own words,  the independent survey of strata owners, occupiers and investors shows most respondents support short-term letting of a residents’ own home, but oppose short-term letting as a full-time commercial operation.

Woolcott Research and Engagement interviewed 1,001 people including apartment tenants, owner-occupiers and investors including apartment tenants (56%), owner-occupiers (38%) and investors (8%). (See Post #3, below, for an explanation of these figures)

The survey found:

  • 54% supported short-term letting while the resident remains on the property (for example, letting a spare bedroom) – 22% opposed
  • 53% supported short-term letting when the resident is on holidays – 26% opposed
  • 64% supported strata committees having more power to manage impacts such as anti-social behaviour – but were evenly split on whether strata committees should be able to ban short-term letting in their building
  • Other issues such as building defects, maintenance and parking were of more concern to respondents than short-term letting

The results suggested significant differences between the views of younger and older residents.

  • 80% aged under 35 supported short-term letting while the resident lives in the property or is on holiday, while 60% supported short-term letting as a full-time investment
  • 50% aged over 55 supported short-term letting while the resident lives in the property, 40% while the resident is on holiday and 20% as a full-time investment
  • Two-thirds over 55 agreed strata committees should have the authority to ban short-term letting in their building, compared to one-third under-35.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the City would make a submission in response to the NSW Government’s recent Options Paper, and was seeking input from the community through the Sydney Your Say website: sydneyyoursay.com.au/short-term-letting

“This research is part of our work to understand the positive and negative impacts of short term letting, and to guide our submission on the NSW Government’s options paper,” the Lord Mayor said.

“We’ll be backing this independent research with work to gauge the community’s preferences when it comes to short term letting platforms like Airbnb and Stayz.

“With more than 70 per cent of our residents living in apartment buildings, we will continue to consult with residents, owners and investors to understand and represent their views.”

This is a considerable challenge to CoS’s previously held opinion, as expressed in their submission to the shelved Coure report into NSW holiday letting legislation issued last year, that residential only zoning should be dumped in favour of “complying developments” –  i.e. no controls – for units let for an unspecified number of nights a year (but probably 100, or, as the more cynical among us call it, every weekend).

Be assured that as you read this, Airbnb will be ramping up their battalions of poor, struggling single parents and retirees with debilitating illnesses who would all be homeless and starve to death if they couldn’t rent a room in their homes, to support their campaign to force the rest of us to put up with commercial holiday lets in our apartment blocks.

The “astroturf” campaign to make us believe that all these “independent” Airbnb hosts represent a grassroots movement will be in full swing.

They are incredibly well organised. One of the people interviewed for the Sun-Herald story, immediately reported back to Airbnb who then asked the reporter to contact them so they could provide more “case studies”. But, considering this is a $50 billion business masquerading as a community service, we shouldn’t be surprised.

We would really love it if the commentators and politicians who are fed the Airbnb “alternative facts” over the next few weeks would ask them this simple question:

If as you say, you are all about people letting a room in their homes, and if, as you say, the commercial letting of whole homes is a miniscule part of your business, why don’t you leave us in peace in our apartments and we will support you in your oft-stated aims to allow genuine home sharing.

And please don’t spin the line about “defending people’s rights to do as they want with their homes.” That doesn’t apply in strata – not here and not anywhere else where people share facilities and responsibilities.

We are a community, not a commodity.

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