It was neither the best of times, nor the worst of times – that was all happening in Canberra – but the last two weeks have seen the parliaments of Australia’s two most populous states both pass legislation legitimising the spread of Airbnb-style short-term holiday letting (STHL) to previously residential-only homes.
However, in a tale of two cities, the new laws that will come into force in NSW and Victoria next year could scarcely be more different – and counter-intuitively so.
The presumably more libertarian Liberal Coalition in NSW has legislated the tightest controls in the country, allowing owners corporations (body corporates) to pass by-laws banning commercial holiday lets in their apartment blocks.
Meanwhile the allegedly more “Nanny State” Labor government in Victoria has given holiday letting hosts free rein … provided their guests don’t misbehave too badly too often.
Disruptive guests will be fined up to $1100 while hosts will be charged up to $2000 as compensation for disruption. They’ll also be banned for five years after three ‘strikes’.
In NSW there are no specific fines but the ban will fall after two breaches of a yet-to-be devised code of conduct. Genuine “sharing’ – the minority of cases where the owners are living in the home when the guests are there – will have no restrictions. And even if there are no by-laws in place, whole-home holiday lets will be limited to 180 nights a year.
However, despite the differences, the views of politicians in each state are closer than you might imagine.
Back in June, the NSW government was on the verge of announcing a virtual free-for-all for short-term holiday lets (STHLs) with no restrictions on the number of nights properties could be let to holiday makers.
After protests they suggested a limit of 180 nights a year until a threatened back-bench revolt saw ministers Matt Kean (Fair Trading) and Anthony Roberts (Planning), perform a combined backflip that would have won Olympic gold for synchronised diving.
Having consistently insisted that by-laws restricting holiday rentals in residential apartments couldn’t be legal, they announced that “opt-out” by-laws would be the cornerstone of the new legislation.
That new law was confirmed in parliament earlier this week and while the 75 per cent vote required to pass a by-law is a high bar, it does allow apartment blocks that really don’t want holiday lets to decide not to have them.
In Victoria, the legislation that was passed last week had been sent by the Legislative Council in December 2016 to the Environment and Planning Committee which advised that greater consultation with the community – specifically apartment owners – be sought. The Bill was presented again, largely unaltered.
The Coalition chose not to oppose the Bill but Nationals MP Melina Bath spoke against it, claiming she’d discovered that one-third of the 150 units in the block where she bought her inner-city bolt-hole apartment, were short-term holiday lets.
Victorian residents’ group We Live Here say they will make STHL an issue in the state election later this year and the state’s Liberals have said they will review the legislation if they regain power.
Judging by events in both states, MPs seem to love or fear Airbnb. Or both. Some have enjoyed the hospitality of Airbnb at the $50 billion online letting agency’s San Francisco HQ.
And overseas, especially, Airbnb has used its considerable wealth and social media influence to target laws, parties and even individual politicians who have threatened their business.
For most MPs, it’s a no-brainer (which, when you think of it, is just as well). The vast majority have little or no STHL activity in their constituencies and wouldn’t want to be seen as taking money out of ordinary people’s pockets.
And it may be that in Victoria, especially, where holiday listings have gone up by more than 70 percent in the past year, people who live in apartments are still seen as having undermined the concept of “home” long before the first listing ever flickered on to an Airbnb web page.
If you are still confused about who’s allowed to do what and where, strata lawyer Anthony Cordato provides a comprehensive summary on the Lexology website.
A version of this article first appeared in the Financial review.