It’s been called window dressing and a sham. In fact, the only thing in favour of the “party animals” short-term holiday letting (STHL) code of conduct announced last week is that party animals probably don’t read the small print of state Government press releases … if they read at all.
Last week the NSW government announced that the first phase of its long overdue code of conduct for Airbnb-type holiday lets would be a “two strikes and you’re out (for up to five years)” penalty for either the principal guest, the hosts or the property.
Repeat offenders would be listed on a register and online letting agencies would not be allowed to promote premises run by badly behaved hosts or accept booking from blacklisted guests
All of which is fine, as far as it goes – but that’s not very far. The threats are somewhat undermined by an internal memo in which senior civil servants are informed that miscreants will not be pursued until June next year when it should have the registry of STHL premises up and running too.
“It is intended that the exclusion register will be linked with the premises register once the latter register has been developed by DPIE [the Planning Department],” writes a senior member of the Consumer Affairs department to colleagues and stakeholders.
“However, we will not be penalising hosts, letting agents and platforms for breaching their obligation to ensure that hosts or guests using their services are not listed on the exclusion register until 1 June 2021, when an automatic link to the exclusion register is expected to be available.”
So party on, dudes!
Of course they can’t penalise hosts and guests for ignoring a register that doesn’t exist. The question is, why didn’t they set up the register before they announced the not-very-scary sanctions?
And it’s not even like you make a complaint about a property, host and guest and it immediately goes on the register. Nor should it, but the response isn’t exactly likely to occur at breakneck speed.
“Complaints under the Code will come through on the normal complaint form via the Fair Trading website and then Fair Trading will implement the process as per the Code,” a Fair Trading spokesperson told Flat Chat.
“An acting officer will be allocated and will examine the evidence that is provided and available i.e. photos of damage to premises and photos of large groups of people at the premises, statements from neighbours and police reports if they were engaged.
“They will be required to do their due diligence to screen for vexatious complaints.”
That last comment kills me. Investigations of “vexatious complaints” are front of mind, but not, say, serial offenders who have replicated their bad behaviour in other cities or states or relatives and known associates of the offenders.
There is no question that NSW has the tightest restrictions on short-term letting and the government has produced some handy idiot-proof flyers for Airbnb hosts and guests about its strict new measures that will have festive hoons quaking in their thongs. Not.
And there is another side to the story, according to Eacham Curry of Stayz who is a guest on this week’s Flat Chat Wrap podcast and who believes that a well-regulated STHL industry is good for everyone, including apartment residents.
But even he thinks the announcement of the Christmas crackdown on party houses is all show and very little substance.
It’s window dressing, he says, adding that the code of conduct and the registry should all have been introduced in full at the same time, especially since the government has literally had years in which to work this out.
Of course, it is his industry – and Airbnb in particular – that has convinced the government to toss out long-considered, tried and tested planning laws, in favour of “disruptors.”
We are expected to believe that the recent tourist boom in Australia would not have occurred without the cheap unregulated accommodation that Airbnb and its ilk provided.
I’m sure we will also be expected to accept that the current and growing boom in “staycations” would not have happened without domestic residences being turned into holiday homes.
And meanwhile, the handful of offending houses parties that may actually occur will do so in the knowledge that the threatened sanctions are as flimsy as a drunk’s excuses, at least until mid-next year.
It reminds me of the joke about pre-unification East Germany where a man has queued for hours at a butchers on the promise of pork chops, only for them to have run out by the time he is served.
When he bitterly and loudly complains about meat shortages, and the whole failing system, a Special Branch officer appears from the shadows.
“Comrade,’ says the spook, “In the old days if you had complained like this …”
And he points his two fingers like a gun at the shopper and says “pow… pow.”
The man returns home empty-handed.
“Don’t tell me there’s no meat,” says his wife.
“It’s worse,” says the man. “There are no bullets.”