Airbnb survey exposes age and ownership divide


By Sue Williams and Jimmy Thomson

A widening divide between young renters and older owners in Sydney’s growing number of apartment buildings, has been exposed  by a major survey into short-term letting.

Deep divisions clearly exist between Millennial tenants and older owner-occupiers who fail to see eye-to-eye on nearly every aspect of apartment-living, with this “inter-generational warfare” signalling potentially more divisive issues in years to come.

The 21st century generation gap has been exposed by a City of Sydney survey of apartment residents’ attitudes to Airbnb-style holiday lets, and confirms what many residents and strata experts have said for years about the different attitudes of younger residents – who tend to be renters – and older occupants, mostly owners, to their high-rise homes.

Strata Community Australia president Chris Duggan says that gap is growing, especially with mortgage stress making owner occupiers, or down-sizers on fixed incomes, want to cut down on strata fees and services – the kind of features, like pools and gyms, that younger tenants want and believe they have paid for.

“Younger people feel disenfranchised a lot of the time in these schemes by owner-occupiers, who are also typically older, which doesn’t help build communities,” he says. “It can be difficult to strike a balance between their different views and that’s only going to become increasingly challenging as people buy higher-value properties and there are financial obligations around capital works. It’s getting more and more difficult.”

Even in buildings where tenats can elect a representative to the strata committee – if any actually exist – the tenants don’t get a vote on the committee and can be excluded from any discussions that the committee feels are sensitive for financial or personal reasons.

The survey, conducted for the council by independent firm Woolcott Research and Engagement, found 68 per cent of tenants were under 35 years old while 74 per cent of owner-occupiers were over 35. Only five per cent of tenants, but 37 per cent of owner-occupiers, were over 55 years old.

That difference in age and property ownership colours residents’ views on virtually every facet of life in apartments.

Owner-occupiers were a lot more concerned, for instance, about smoke drift than tenants, and more worried about neighbour noise. Renters were more concerned about rules and regulations.

When it comes to a sense of community, 59 percent of owners but only 36 per cent of tenants said they knew their neighbours quite well or very well. Also 52 per cent of owner-occupiers but only 35 per cent of tenants said they communicated with neighbours several times a week, at least.

On holiday letting – the main point of the survey – 24 per cent of owner-occupiers rated it as among their main concerns but only 10 per cent of Millennial renters felt the same way.

Attitudes were starkly different. Nearly 80 per cent of renters were in favour of letting a room through Airbnb or Stayz while the owner or tenant is there – as against only 64 per cent of owner-occupiers. Fifty per cent also supported unlimited holiday lets of whole units, as against just 37 per cent of owner-occupiers.

NSW Tenants Union senior policy officer Ned Cutcher says he’s not surprised at all by the big differences in attitudes. “It’s more about the enfranchised, with owners being able to have an input in the way a strata is managed, and the disenfranchised, with tenants not able to have a long-term connection to a strata community as they have no say and can be evicted at pretty much any time,” he says.

“We probably need to be looking more at the causes of this rather than facing off as inter-generational warfare.” He believes changes to tenancy laws making evictions without reason harder, and to perceptions of property as a wealth-generator rather than as the provision of housing, could help.

Millennials also haven’t had much experience in apartment-living, says group managing director Daniel Linders of award-winning strata management company Strata Choice, which can lead to difficulties.

“They tend to have come from houses, so they get introduced to community living without knowing how it works, with by-laws and residents’ manuals,” Mr Linders says. “They can have different priorities too. Older owner-occupiers might not use facilities as much or want to pay for them.

“We had one building where it was voted to turn the heating off in the pool for certain months of the year which caused a significant amount of problems with tenants saying they’d signed up on the basis of year-round use of the pool. They also definitely have different attitudes towards the sharing economy.”

Millennial tenants, for example, were also more likely to think owners corporations already have too much power and were less likely than older residents and owner-occupiers to support them being given the ability to ban short-term lets.

All groups, however, thought strata committees should have increased powers to deal with anti-social behaviour, while clear but not overwhelming majorities of older residents and owner-occupiers were in favour of owners corporations being able to pass by-laws banning holiday lets.

Only 35 per cent of under-35s supported by-laws banning holiday lets while 66 percent of over-55s were in favour – which could mean in the future that buildings with older residents and higher percentages of owner-occupiers will be more likely to pass whatever by-laws they require, because they have the voting power and talk to each other.

The only major issue on which both groups agreed to the same extent was the importance of repairs and maintenance. About 25 per cent of each rated it as a priority in apartment living.


A version of this story first appeared  in the Sydney Morning Herald online.

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