RANT: Tenants Union backs Airbnb couple in ‘sub-letting’ row


I have just read an article in the Age which in which the Tenants Union of Victoria supported the “right” of tenants to rent out their entire apartment on airbnb.

As related in this story, a landlord received complaints from her apartment block neighbours that her tenants were letting their flat on Airbnb.  She tried to have them evicted on the grounds that they were not allowed to sublet.

However, a Victorian Tribunal decided that, under their interpretation of the  law, letting your entire apartment to complete strangers is not subletting. Clearly, Victoria has Tribunal adjudicators who hold the same high standards of wisdom and excellence as ours do here in NSW.

However, the Tribunal also hinted that the problem was perhaps that the landlord had merely pursued the tenants under the wrong part of the law. For instance, I imagine, if tenants were pursued for breaching a valid by-law against short-term lets, then an eviction order might have stood.

And can I just say, without knowing the details of the case, if eviction was the first response, rather than a follow-up to warnings, I think it would have been a bit heavy handed.  But if there were warnings and the tenants persisted, that is a whole other matter.

This website and its related newspaper column has been a consistent supporter of Tenants Unions in Australia.  They provide a great service to renters – who comprise more than half the residents of strata – and their advice is very helpful in keeping landlords on the right track too. But their statement in support of tenants who were threatened with eviction for letting their entire apartment out on Airbnb seems breathtakingly naive.

“Tenants should have the right to utilise the property as they wish, so long as they are upholding their responsibilities as a tenant,” policy officer Yaelle Caspi said in the Age article.

“We don’t see why this is any different to a tenant having a friend or family member stay as a guest.”

Oh, really?  So, do you charge your friends and family members rent?  Do you slope off to couch surf with mates or spend the weekend with your parents when your friends take over your apartment?  Do you hand your friends the keys and disappear until they leave.  What kind of friends do you have?

If the Age quote is accurate – and I have no reason to believe it isn’t – Tenants Union Victoria have just shot themselves in the collective foot.

Short-term lets make more money for the proprietors of the unit than residential rents – just ask Airbnb … it’s there on their website.  So the next time tenant representative groups complain about the lack of low-cost housing, they should think about how they have just endorsed landlords who are exploiting residential properties as holiday rentals.

They should think about the 60 percent of apartments and houses that are let on airbnb are entire properties – that’s 4700, or roughly 40 large high-rises –  in Melbourne alone.

And they should think about how they have encouraged tenants to ignore the clear wishes of their community in a apartment block just so they can make a few extra dollars.

We salute and support Tenants’ Unions’ efforts to protect renters across Australia, but that doesn’t mean renters are always right and landlords are always wrong.

Clearly the Victorian Tenants Union is more concerned about the freedom of renters to do what they want with their landlords’ properties than the effects of short-term letting on the residential property market.


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