SBS doco plots Scots’ plan to curb Airbnb

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An episode of the SBS doco series Dateline is shining the spotlight on what some see as one of the greatest failures of government regulation in Australia – the largely unfettered spread of Airbnb and its clones and the subsequent effect on residential rental properties and the people who could and should be living in them.

SBS reporter Evan Williams has travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland, to examine what has prompted the government there to bring in some of the tightest restrictions on short-term holiday letting (STHL) in the world.

And he has compared that with the restrictions – or lack thereof – here in Australia. NSW has the only meaningful curbs on short-term letting and even they are patchy and easily worked around.

In Greater Sydney and the Byron Bay area, and only there, short-term lets are limited to 180 nights a year.  Sydney strata schemes can pass by-laws forbidding short-term lets by investors, but not by resident owners.

Residents can put their homes on short-term letting platforms for up to six months while they travel the world or go and live in their beach houses. Or they can let them over weekends – every weekend – while they stay with family or friends.

NSW has a register that STHLs must be on before they can be listed on the letting platforms, and they can theoretically be thrown off it if they cause problems.  But these are about the lightest of restrictions you could have without having none at all (as pertains elsewhere in Australia).

Noosa on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland has a unique approach. There the area’s local council has passed a by-law meaning STHL hosts have to nominate a property manager who must live within 30 minutes of the property and can be called any hour of the night or day to deal with a disturbance. 

Neighbours troubled by noisy holidaymakers call a hotline, the hotline operators call the property monitor and then the council follows up with a visit to establish what the outcome was.

Elsewhere in Australia it’s pretty much open slather with between a third to a half of the units in some of what should have been prestigious apartment blocks in Melbourne’s Docklands given over to STHLs.

According to the SBS report, however, WA premier Mark McGowan is looking at curbs on STHLs as residential rental availability in the state has hit an all-time low of 0.7 per cent.

One of the problems in dealing with Airbnb specifically, is the lack of tranparency. Airbnb routinely rejects estimates of is usage by “webscraping” platforms as unreliable and inaccurate but then refuses to reveal the true figures on the dubious grounds that it is protecting its users’ privacy.

When London Mayor Sadiq Khan called Airbnb’s bluff on this, and revealed the true figures from a survey, it resulted in a licensing system for all short-term holiday lets, as in NSW, where hosts have to register before they can list.

London also imposed restrictions of a maximum of 90 days a year, compared to Sydney’s 180 days – which remains the only restriction active in Australia.

Airbnb has thus far managed to keep most Australian politians firmly onsie, despite the daily horror stories of housing shortages and homelessness.

It has a well-oiled publicity machine that presents what is essentially an online booking agency as if it were a social service. Of course, that caring and sharing model doesn’t extend to the tenants who have been turfed out of their homes so that the landlords can make more money from short-term holiday lets.

It’s highly relevant that an Australian TV doco should choose Scotland as an example of an alternative approach. Tourism is a huge part of the Scottish economy – even more so than it is here in Australia.  Scottish tourism represents 5 per cent of the country’s GDP and supports 7 per cent of the country’s jobs.

In Australia pre-covid tourism was worth only 3.1 percent of our GDP and supported 5.2 per cent of our jobs. It is unlikely to have reached those levels even now.

So why are the Scots planning to go Braveheart on Airbnb and its ilk by introducing a licensing system that could force many operators back into the residential rental market, when Australian states seem to be terrified of doing anything to deter the so-called sharing economy.

Perhaps it’s the fact that availability of rentals in Scotland has, like here, dropped below 1 per cent and rents have soared by as much as 15 per cent. A recent article in The Conversation details how various states and other countries have dealt with STHLs.

Dateline should be worth watching tonight (April 4), or streamed on SBS On Demand, if only to make us consider our priorities – unfettered tourism or residential tenants?

This column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.

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  • #68124
    Jimmy-T
    Keymaster

      An episode of the SBS doco series Dateline is shining the spotlight on what some see as one of the greatest failures of government regulation in Austr
      [See the full post at: SBS doco plots Scots’ plan to curb Airbnb]

      The opinions offered in these Forum posts and replies are not intended to be taken as legal advice. Readers with serious issues should consult experienced strata lawyers.
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    • #68195
      chasingamy
      Flatchatter

        ..and what about those of us who suddenly find themselves living next to them!

        #68210
        Jimmy-T
        Keymaster
        Chat-starter

          ..and what about those of us who suddenly find themselves living next to them!

          Didn’t anybody tell you when you moved into strata that your neighbours’ bank balance is way more important than your peace of mind or the fact that people are sleeping in their cars because they can’t pay rents that compete with Airbnb? Should be on one of those government leaflets, surely.

          The opinions offered in these Forum posts and replies are not intended to be taken as legal advice. Readers with serious issues should consult experienced strata lawyers.
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