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Holiday letting 'survey' threat to MPs who vote for restrictions
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03/12/2017 - 2:59 pm
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As NSW edges towards changing its planning laws to accommodate Airbnb, and other states wait to see what form that takes, are we finally seeing shark teeth behind the online holiday letting agency’s broad Californian smile?

Last month (November) it was reported in another newspaper – and only there – that an Airbnb “survey” warned MPs that 30 percent of constituents would consider voting against them if they chose to curb  their activities.

Now, I have to confess previous convictions when it comes to Airbnb; I am not their favourite journalist, for very good reason.

Mostly, I worry about their behind the scenes push to force buildings currently zoned “residential only” to accept holiday lets of entire apartments.

However, I am not against what Airbnb say they want – ordinary people being able to let rooms in their homes to tourists.

Getting back to our now presumably nervous MPs, Airbnb has a record of pouring money into politics, such as the successful $8.3 million advertising campaign to block changes to the laws in San Francisco, or erroneously connecting a New York political opponent to an environmental scandal.

Here in Australia their political power is yet to be fully realised. The duchessing of the Victorian premier and his erstwhile Consumer Affairs minister led to legislation that was so pro-holiday lets (and anti-apartment residents) that it was tossed out by the upper house there

The report out just this week tweaking the proposed changes to the laws is still very much in favour of opening apartment blocks to largely unfettered holiday letting.  The so-called guests have to actively cause a problem – any consideration of intrusion into a sense of “home” is barely even considered.

In NSW, a similarly pro “innovation” inquiry led to laissez-faire proposals that were likewise ditched, leading to the public consultation process that has just ended.

So, should state MPs on either side of the border be concerned? Partly yes, but mostly no.

Even if 30 percent of voters really are thinking of not voting for MPs who don’t fully embrace the ‘sharing economy’, it’s not that big a deal.

The vast majority of voters don’t live in areas significantly affected by Airbnb. They’re much more likely to object to politicians in Barcelona or Berlin screwing up their holiday plans.

Also, only a minority of constituencies are seriously affected by Airbnb, albeit profoundly so.  Despite Airbnb’s dismissal of their findings, two Sydney University peer-reviewed reports have shown that high Airbnb activity pushes up rents and reduces housing availability.

Meanwhile, I am told residents in in our better-run apartment blocks are discussing other options, should the government force them to accept whole-home holiday lets.

Think legal challenges to council amalgamations and the abandoned greyhound racing ban and you get an idea of where this might end up.

Airbnb have been told privately that even if owners corporations (body corporates) are allowed to pass by-laws restricting holiday lets, apathy and inertia will probably hand the majority of unit blocks to them on a plate.

But, with pro-Airbnb website AirDNA revealing that the biggest Airbnb host in Australia made $5.3 million last year, the stakes are clearly too high to leave anything to chance.

This column previously appeared in The Australian Financial Review.

Anthony Cordato
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12/12/2017 - 1:03 am
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Jimmy, the focus of the discussion on Airbnb and Apartment buildings is quite correctly on planning issues – as you say, it is wrong to force buildings currently zoned “residential only” to accept holiday lets of entire apartments.

But that does not assist many owners, particularly in high-rise buildings (4+ storeys) because their zoning is often a mixed residential and commercial zoning. For example, buildings with retail or professional shop fronts on the ground floor and residential above.

The focus for these mixed use buildings needs to be more upon whether the building was designed for, and suitable for, use as serviced apartments. Serviced apartments are a more ‘aggressive’ or ‘intensive’ use than owner-occupied residential or long term residential tenancies (more than 90 days).

Interestingly enough, some of the problems that arise from using a building designed for owner-occupancy or long term rental for serviced apartments were highlighted in recent NSW Supreme Court decision involving Meriton Suites.

As you know Meriton builds apartments. In recent years it has reserved some high rise towers for use as serviced apartments, which it calls Meriton Suites.

Because they are not designed or constructed to be as robust as a hotel, they suffer major service disruptions. Some examples are: lifts out of service (due to heavy rain), lift delays, phone lines down, no hot water, computer issues affecting service for guests, evacuation of a floor due to gas leak, lost power, excessive construction noise next door.

To read my case note on the decision click this link

In my view, this question needs to be asked (and answered) – Is a serviced apartment use in my building suitable given its design and construction?

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12/12/2017 - 6:11 pm
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Check the class of the residential part of your strata scheme in documents lodged with your council. The occupancy certificate (City of Sydney Council) for our mixed use building (commercial, retail & residential) lists the residential lots as Class 2 & the development consent for our building states:

“That the residential component of the development must be for permanent residential accommodation only and not for the purpose of hotel, motel, serviced apartments, tourist accommodation or the like.”

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