It’s easy to spot when a state government policy on controlling short-term letting might have serious holes in it – Airbnb and other holiday letting (STHL) operators say they’re happy with it.
The first installment of the government’s long-delayed STHL code of conduct has been released, and the first all the truly significant safety and compliance elements have been removed from the proposals that were issued last year, or delayed.
Instead we get a smokescreen about party houses – a tiny but high-profile and easily targeted aspect of holiday rentals – and Covid-19 safety, something that didn’t unduly concern the Government at the height of the pandemic when Airbnbs and other STHLs were being listed as ideal self-quarantine locations.
Yeah, take your potential infection into an unguarded community, why don’t you?
So what’s missing from the code of conduct?
The biggest hole is the area previously occupied in the discussion document by the fire safety measures that would have required holiday rentals to be as safe as hotels and proper B&Bs?
I am reliably informed that they will be included in the planning aspects of the Code which are to be finalised over the next six to eight months. But don’t assume the measures proposed by fire safety authorities will see the light of day. They would pretty much shut down at least half the residential homes being used for holiday lets and Airbnb and Astra aren’t going to let that happen without the kind of fight this Government really doesn’t want.
Meanwhile, the registration that would have meant all holiday rentals had to sign up and be identified, flushing out all the by-law breachers and multi-unit businesses, has been put on hold until June next year.
Is it just me or wouldn’t a register be exactly what you needed if you were truly concerned about community Covid infections and how to trace potential contacts?
But, no, the focus is on “party animals” which is fair enough, as far as it goes (not very far at all).
One suspects it’s just a way of making it look like you are doing something when all you’re really doing is supporting a policy that Airbnb claimed months ago was already in place. Not much push-back there.
And strata committees should be very careful if they decided to hit STHL hosts with the kitchen sink when they become a problem. If you charge them with breaching by-laws, the Fair Trading Commissioner can say “not our problem” and refuse to handle the case.
Choose your weapons
Section 3.2.5 of the code says this: “If a complaint includes an allegation of a contravention of a by-law of a strata scheme or community scheme, the Commissioner may decline to accept the complaint on the basis that the complaint should be pursued by application to the Tribunal.”
On the other hand, if you do go down that road and can persuade the Tribunal to issue a fine, and the Commissioner deigns to accept the complaint, they can call it a “strike” in terms of future potential bans.
In other words, it’s a case of “choose your weapons”.
What does this all mean? According to this story in the Sydney Morning Herald, under a “two strikes” policy, problematic guests and hosts can be “banned or receive other penalties for disruptive parties, damaging property, or dangerous and threatening behaviour, among other conditions, resulting in them being placed on a publicly searchable exclusion list for five years.”
So that means guests, hosts and properties related to miscreant hosts can be taken off the STHL listings for five years (athough they are allowed a month’s grace before they start cancelling bookings already in place.
The SMH story reports that Airbnb is delighted with the new controls. That’s hardly surprising since they imposed their own restrictions on party houses two months ago, so it fits in neatly with their own policies.
Once again, it seems, the Airbnb tail wags the Australian state government dog. And the global monolith, which is still hoping to list on the stock exchange despite the ravages of Covid-19 to its income, is not alone in welcoming the Code.
“This is a landmark which will see professional standards across the industry backing a consistent, quality framework for the entire state”, according to Rob Jeffress, Chairman of the Australian Short-term rentals Association.
Really? It’s a structure for shutting down repeat offender party houses, that’s all. More of a speed bump than a landmark.
“It’s also a ‘coming of age’ which demonstrates the importance of the STR Industry in providing guest preference for home style accommodation and the growth of the industry as it becomes recognised as a valuable core sector of the tourism accommodation industry,” Mr Jeffress adds.
Maybe so, but just be aware that this is someone who cites “mum and dad” operators before mentioning the major force in the industry – multi-property owners who can and do (or did) make millions of dollars by letting your common property facilities to complete strangers.
Not everyone in the holiday letting industry is happy, specifically that the proposed compulsory register that will identify properties and hosts not taking effect until June 2021.
“Short-term rental platform Stayz warned the code was only a half-finished regulatory framework that lacked grunt and could create confusion for holiday homeowners,” says the SMH.
Not to downplay the pain that party houses and flats can cause, the government is right to be concerned about the potential for harm, especially at a time when enforced “staycations” will surely boost local holiday rentals during the Christmas and New Year periods.
The “party animals” will more than likely be off the leash around then too. And that’s when you will discover that your carefully (and possibly expensively) written “no-Airbnb” by-laws have a giant hole in them.
According to the legal advice we’ve heard, anyone who spends four nights a week in their flat and lets it out at weekends, or stays at home for more than six months a year, can claim it is their principal place of residence and therefore not subject to short-term holiday rental by-laws.
Once again, Airbnb gets exactly what it wants while apartment residents are denied the protections that they need.
As for the register, it’s not due to come in until June next year. Now, we know Airbnb really doesn’t like registers – their hosts tend to disappear in huge numbers wherever one is imposed.
But STHL hosts shouldn’t panic; the major players have eight months to lobby the regsiter and the fire safety regulations into insignificance.
You can download the Code of Conduct here.