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Law change would force strata blocks to allow Airbnb

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By Jimmy Thomson

Apartment buildings in NSW could be forced to accept short-term lets – including every weekend – under proposals currently being formulated by a parliamentary inquiry.

And protections for owners who don’t want short-stay lets offered through online agencies such as Airbnb and Stayz in their buildings were “blown out of the water” by City of Sydney’s submissions, according to a committee insider.

This is a longer version of the story that first appeared
in the Sydney Morning Herald on Aug 27,2016

City of Sydney’s proposals are there be no limit on people renting rooms in their homes – as long as they are present.  But complete homes, including apartments, could be let for a specified number days a year before they had to apply for a “change of use” planning approval.

One figure being seriously considered is 100 days a year. Critics have pointed out that this  is the equivalent of every weekend – the times when short-stay guest disruption is at its worst.

The Sydney model has been seized upon by pro-short stay committee members who are apparently using it as a ‘least worst’ benchmark, dismissing protection even for buildings where the vast majority of owners don’t want holiday lets in their unit blocks.

The committee was due to meet last week to finalise its proposals but the plan was scuppered by the marathon all-night sitting to discuss the ban on greyhounds.

According to unnamed sources close to the committee, it is moving closer to a combination of three models, two from interstate and one from City of Sydney.

The first element is the Victorian model which allows short-stay letting in strata schemes but has provisions for suing hosts and their guests for damages, including disruptive behaviour, and a three strikes rule that could see individual apartments banned from having short-stay lets in the future.

Apartment resident groups in Melbourne, still reeling from Supreme Court defeats over the notorious Watergate building there, have lambasted the laws, due to come in later this year.

Residents’ group WeLiveHere claim they offer no protection for long-term unit resident as they will be impossible to police and will require constant vigilance and repeated legal action if they are to have any effect.

The second element under consideration for NSW legislation is the Queensland Party House legislation, brought in to prevent houses and units, primarily in the Gold Coast, from being set up as weekend party venues  – where revellers would literally party for 48 hours, often with rock bands, DJs and strippers.

But it’s the third element, the Sydney Model, that worries long-term apartment residents most. City of Sydney suggests that short-term holiday letting be considered differently from the existing tourist and visitor accommodation, meaning it would not have to reach the same planning requirements as established hotels and B&Bs.

Their submission to the Committee on Environment and Planning’s inquiry into the ‘Adequacy of the regulation of short-term holiday letting’ says short-stay lets should be permitted in buildings approved for residential use only and that they should be defined as “exempt developments” in State Environmental Planning Policy – meaning they don’t have to apply for “change of use” approval.

Currently, apartment blocks in NSW can ban short-term lets by passing by-laws that confirm the block’s adherence to their development approvals and zoning, following the Land and Environment Court’s definition of residential lets as being nothing less than 30 days.

If, as expected, the Sydney Model forms the basis of the NSW legislation, that ability for strata communities to determine the way the vast majority of owners want their building to run will disappear.

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