Airbnb ‘won’t name renter of trashed unit to police’

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Assistant Commissioner Peter Thurtell at a press doorstep that has nothing to do with this story.

Just a few weeks since the much-vaunted short-term letting register and code of conduct became law, Riot Squad police have twice been called in to break up violent and destructive Airbnb parties.

And while Airbnb declined to reveal to police the identities of the hosts and guests involved, it seems Fair Trading Commissioner Rose Webb may have the legal power to do so … should she choose to use it.  

According to a story in the Sydney Morning Herald, NSW Police say serious incidents in short-term rentals are increasing.

But Airbnb is allegedly declining to provide information about the hosts or guests involved, citing internal privacy policies.

Police sources told the SMH that illegal and out of control parties had increased over the festive season, and may continue to do so as the weather warms up and lockdown restrictions ease across the city.

Bottles were thrown at Public Order and Riot Squad officers who were trying to eject about 100 partygoers ejected from a unit on Harris St, Ultimo, last month.

They discovered a man had been stabbed in the back, and found blood-stained wall when they were called to a party in The Rocks.

They found a property in Schofields in Sydney’s north-west had been wrecked during an illegal party,  they had to break up a mass brawl in a unit at Wentworth Point and found a property trashed in Arncliffe.

Police, speaking off they record, said they were frustrated by Airbnb not providing information they need to track down the culprits in these cases, claiming  Airbnb refuses to provide investigators with details of hosts when their homes have been trashed and also will not provide details of the person who has booked the property.

“With regards to your request for a list of Airbnb properties in your area, we cannot give this information under data protection and privacy laws … If you think we can support an investigation please submit your request for information via [an online portal] and you will hear from our Law Enforcement team,” says an email from Airbnb seen by the Herald.

Meanwhile a senior police officer has said that,  given that badly behaved guests are unlikely to heed warnings from remote corporations like Airbnb, it falls to strata neighbours to alert owners that their properties are being misused.

The problem is that often the properties are sub-let by tenants and the owners don’t realise or care that their units are being listed on holiday rental sites.

Added to the fact that many strata owners ignore their legal obligation to register their tenants with the scheme  – the modest fine for failure to do so is rarely if ever imposed – they are also happy if the head tenant, the actual holiday letting host, pays  their rent on time.

Police Assistant Commissioner Peter Thurtell said owners must take steps to protect their property and prevent parties where they can.

“Police are concerned about the increasing number of public disorder incidents, where homes are being seriously damaged and the safety of attendees and the broader community is being threatened,” Assistant Commissioner Thurtell said.

“Anyone who would be disrespectful enough to trash another person’s property would obviously not care about a corporation-imposed party ban, so the onus for protecting the property lies mostly with the owner.

“If you are renting out your property, we encourage you to build strong relationships with neighbours who can keep you notified of concerning activity.”

Even if the police can’t force Airbnb to reveal the identity of its hosts and guest, it seems the Fair Trading Commissioner could, if she was so inclined.

Section 2.1.3 of the mandatory short-term letting Code of Conduct says this:

“An industry participant must comply with a request made by the Commissioner to produce information relating to their activities as a short-term rental accommodation industry participant or this code.”  

It goes on to say: “This section is an offence provision under section 54C of the Act.”

So, will the Police Commissioner ask the Fair Trading Commissioner to order Airbnb to reveal the identities of the miscreant guests in these cases?

Don’t hold your breath – it depends how they interpret “information relating to their activities as a short-term rental accommodation industry participant .”

As we know, Airbnb has been a law unto itself in Australia (and across the world) and most of the people who are supposed to protect us from the worst excesses of its hosts and guest have pretty much given up trying.

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