Airbnb has “welcomed” the new short-term holiday lets code of conduct but is staying notably silent on the proposed register of STHL properties in NSW.
And while accommodation hosts in a popular South Coast holiday spot have welcomed the register, a new book has revealed the damage short-term letting has done to urban communities across the world and in Australia in particular.
The NSW state government plans to introduce a register of holiday lets in June next year, allied to its blacklist of badly behaved hosts and guests.
As previously reported in these pages, breaches of the new code of conduct, which is supposed to take effect the week before Christmas, will have no penalties attached until June next year, at the earliest.
“Like the NSW Government, Airbnb is dedicated to growing tourism sustainably in a way that benefits everyone,” says Derek Nolan, Airbnb’s Head of Public Policy for Australia he said.
“We welcome the Government’s introduction of an industry-wide Code of Conduct for short-term rental accommodation in NSW.”
However Airbnb is saying nothing about the allied registry of holiday let properties, essential to giving the code of conduct real teeth, according to holiday letting rivals Stayz.
Why? Because wherever in the world that an enforceable register has been introduced, Airbnb’s listings have plummeted.
Back in 2018, listings in Japan dropped by 80 percent when a new register was imposed, and last year they fell by one-third in Boston, USA, when a similar ruling came into force.
Airbnb has certainly changed its tune. Just a year ago, in an article on their website entitled “Damaging red tape proposals will hurt NSW working families”, Airbnb’s Head of Public Policy for Australia and New Zealand, Derek Nolan, announced a campaign to “highlight damaging proposals being considered by Government that would dramatically increase red tape, hurt tourism and impact jobs.’
But now he’s OK with it. Amazing what the combined effect of a global pandemic, much delayed plans to float a $50 billion (and shrinking) company on the stock market, and gullible politicians can have on a point of view.
Meanwhile, according to a feature in the Kiama area’s online newspaper The Bugle, local holiday let hosts are generally in favour of the registry (despite a negative headline based on a year-old Airbnb quote).
Chair of the Destination Kiama Tourism Advisory Committee, Councillor Matt Brown, says the new laws introduced are “an excellent step in the right direction”, producing certainty and a ‘one stop shop’ for complaints handling.
Cllr Brown claims that short-term holiday rentals are essential in the local economy as there are not enough beds in local hotels and motels to satisfy demand, especially if there are significant events or a “few large weddings” in the area.
“The industry needed some overarching regulation,” he says. “This provides consistency and prevents duplication and confusion.”
But not everyone is convinced. Beleaguered Kiama home owner, Keith Watson, who has holiday rental homes either side of him and a further nine or 10 in his street, says the new code effectively won’t do anything,
“The code has no teeth. Now you contact the home owner to complain about noise that goes on until 3am, but they live 250km away. Even if they do contact the people renting their house, those people then say ‘we are not making a noise’.
“On occasions my wife has asked a group of women (who are often the worst offenders) if they will turn down the noise around midnight. Some say they are so sorry. Others just turn it up louder.”
Under the code of conduct, when the register of offenders is established next year, two verified complaints in a year could see the guests, hosts or properties banned from listings for up to five years.
But, according to Stayz senior executive Eacham Curry, the recent announcement is all mere “window dressing” until there is both an STHL blacklist and compulsory register in place.
Meanwhile, a new book by two American academics has set out to document the damage caused to rental communities in cities around the world. And there is a whole section devoted to Australia which Airbnb boasts is “the most penetrated market” on the planet.
Much of the online holiday rental company’s success is due to the “fair and balanced” STHL laws in every state except NSW. Elsewhere in Australia, state laws allow Airbnb hosts to run multiple properties without meaningful restrictions in apartment blocks, 365 days a year.
The problems this has caused in Melbourne has led to developers of high-end apartment blocks demanding caveats from prospective owners that they will never put their properties on the STHL market.
The resulting homelessness in Hobart due to the shift to STHL led the Tasmanian government to offer cash incentives to hosts to put their properties back into the residential lets.
If that’s fair and balanced, I’d hate to see what a pro-Airbnb law looked like.
Back to the book. In Airbnb, Short-Term Rentals and the Future of Housing, authors Lily M. Hoffman and Barbara Schmitter Heisler “bring together a diverse body of literature and construct case studies of cities in the US, Australia and Germany to examine the struggles of local authorities to protect their housing and neighbourhoods from the increasing professionalization and commercialization of Airbnb,” according to the book’s blurb.
The book argues that the most disruptive impact of Airbnb and short-term rentals has been in urban centers where housing markets are stressed.
Despite its claims to the contrary, Airbnb has encouraged speculation in residential housing. At the heart of this business model is its control over access to data, claim the authors.
They discuss how Airbnb has institutionalized short-term rentals, removing long-term rentals, contributing to rising rents and changing neighbourhood milieus as visitors replace long-term residents.
They also trace the transformation of short-term rentals into a multibillion-dollar hybrid real estate sector which provides more options for owners and investors, but has the potential to undermine housing security and exacerbate housing inequality.
Australia has one of the least restrictive regulatory regimes, they say, while regulations are increasingly restrictive in the United States and most restrictive in Germany. Even so, the patterns of cause and effect are similar across the globe.
“Although Airbnb has made some concessions, it has not given any city the data needed to efficiently enforce regulations, making for costly externalities,” they say.
Although the publishers say the book is written in a clear and direct style, they believe it will particularly appeal to students and scholars in Urban Studies, Urban Planning, Housing and Tourism Studies.
For a less academic approach, you could turn to a feature in Conde Naste traveller about the world cities with the tightest restrictions on Airbnb and its ilk.
NB: The Flat Chat website has a policy of not asking Airbnb for direct comment as in the past it has invariably resulted in irrelevant motherhood statements, statistical distortions and unreliable commentary, for which we would rather not provide a platform.