Fight for the right to ban holiday lets taken to the top

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“How often in any politician’s career does he or she get to effect tangible and significant social change?”

That was what Planning Minister Anthony Roberts asked me back in 2013 when, as Fair Trading Minister, he announced the new strata laws that came into effect last year.

He admitted then that, at first, he had been less than enthused about having strata in his portfolio.  It seemed to be a quicksand of problems none of which had clear solutions.

But then he’d undertaken two years of intense consultation with stakeholders in strata, and became possibly the first NSW minister to either know or care about “vertical villages”.

He will get the chance once more to effect real social change – or, at least, try to put a brake on rampant disruption of strata communities –  when he presents Planning’s views on holiday lets to Cabinet, prior to new laws being tabled in April.

Nobody’s saying much, but this week unit owners came out of a meeting with him with looks of mild surprise and considerable optimism.

The delegation from owners’ lobby group ‘Our Community, Our Choice’ had gone into the meeting a lot less confident about the future for apartment residents in Sydney.

They say that preventing owners from voting to ban short-stay letting could turn the best buildings into de facto hotels.

“For the first time, I got the feeling that we were dealing with someone who understood how strata works,” says leading strata lawyer Stephen Goddard, who declined to elaborate on the content of the meeting. “Just knowing that was very encouraging.”

Their main concern is that the relentless pursuit by online letting agencies of the jewels in Sydney’s residential crown – harbour and beachside apartment blocks with easy access to the city’s tourist attractions – would expose every residential block in NSW to the potential blight of holiday letting.

Their call to allow the majority of owners to choose not to allow short-stay letting is opposed by the holiday let industry.

“We believe in the right of people to do what they want in their own homes,” an Airbnb spokesman said recently.

They are not alone in their 1960s thinking – that’s when it was established that strata by-laws couldn’t interfere with “dealing” with units.

A government inquiry into holiday letting legislation last year admitted that apartments were different and cited the 60s law as a reason for treating apartments the same as houses. So what has changed?

Currently strata schemes can pass by-laws saying they will support their residential-only zoning – effectively controlling holiday lets.

But if zoning doesn’t apply to short-stay lets – as is proposed, to allow houses to have Airbnb – they will no longer be able to ban them.

However, Anthony Roberts and recent strata supremo Victor Dominello “get” the difference between houses and apartments. But will their voices prevail over those who don’t know or don’t care?

There’s more on holiday lets on the Forum and you can ask a strata question by emailing questions@flat-chat.com.au.

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