The ‘Airbnb Contagion’ and the Inaction of NSW Legislators
Yes, we have reached an impasse: Premier Gladys Berejiklianrelies on Ministers –Gabriel Upton, Matthew Kean, Anthony Roberts andAdam Marshallamongst others - to address breaches of legislation. Ministers in turn forward issues brought to them to senior Public Servants who, often several months later, bat away all such matters, and in so doing dismiss a long line of legal jurisdiction and the proprietary rights of residential Title Deeds holders. These Executive Directors of Planning Policy and Better Regulation merely parrot back the contents of Ministerial Media Releases.
When Airbnb, Expedia and others take over a building or residential suburb, what options then for those who purchased homes in the full knowledge that the Planning Instruments on their property specifically excluded commercial tourist/visitor operations and what too of the plight of those struggling with rising rents and indeed those without homes? Our Legislators are failing us. Here is one example to consider:
Council of the City of Sydney, after three and a half-years work by one group of Residents, took a high-profile short-term rental operator to the NSW Land and Environment Court (LEC). Having faced off against Council in the LEC on two earlier occasions there was no doubt this individual’s short-term rentals were an “Illegal Use of Premises”. Said operator accepted from the Court “Orders by agreement”. Airbnb’s Brent Thomas had a copy of these particular Orders on his laptop.
Former State MP John Williams, who was ensnared in this specific LEC Court action – his apartment was one of those illegally let short-term - continues to chair the Owners Corporation of this Sydney residential building. Williams refuses to see Owners comply with standard by-laws, let alone address the ever-increasing resurgence of illegal short-term rentals.
The City of Sydney Council, having been provided with details of this new short-term rental activity, now writes to Owners: “Council has elected to not enter into enforcement action given that there is no significant detrimental effect on the environment and it does not constitute a risk to public health and safety.”
The NSW Ombudsman won’t intervene, writing: “I should explain that the Ombudsman can only make recommendations after formally investigating a matter and finding there has been wrong conduct. Even then, the Ombudsman cannot force agencies to act on any recommendations made in the report of the investigation…We do not have the power to require council to take action against those operating serviced apartments.”
So what now of the home life of Residents, having previously seen Court Orders put an end to an intolerable situation? Corporate Housing agents again run serviced apartments, individual owners (or their tenants) advertise apartments on the Airbnb platform, another corporate agent – M-Power Accommodation with 119 Airbnb listings across Sydney– is flouting the rights of resident neighbours in this building and the LEC Orders, obviously confident that Council authorities have no intention of enforcing Residential Zoning here or in other buildings. So very many other such operators act with impunity; Sydney’s top short-term rental actor – L’Abode Accommodation – now has 195 homes listed on Airbnb.
Justice Rachel Pepper of the NSW Land and Environment Court judges that the commercial use of housing for short-term rentals “defies commonsense…undermines the planning regime of (Local Government Authorities) and ultimately the State”. Justice Pepper goes on to judge that when Legislators fail to take action against this practice this “amounts to an effective abrogation by the council of its fundamental duties and responsibilities – by its inaction (a Council) has, in my opinion, failed to fulfil its core functions and has failed its constituents. The harm caused to the environment is not limited to the undermining of the planning regime. The adverse impacts on the amenity and wellbeing of (neighbours is), as the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates, severe”.
Today, one cannot name a single NSW Legislator who is acting in the interests of Residents and is seeing to the enforcement of Residential Zoning.
Homes not Hotels Communities not Transit Zones People before Profits Neighbours not Strangers