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Where legislators negotiate with Airbnb, it is in those same cities and states that residents are repeatedly abused by and beaten with one very big Airbnb ‘stick’. And where legislators implement or enforce legislation to protect the interests of their residents’ rights and needs, Airbnb sues. Example: Santa Monica was sued three times by Airbnb and its ilk. And Santa Monica succeeded three times in the courts – thus residents’ rights, housing and community were protected. “Airbnb has devoured London” – and here is the data that proves it. Meanwhile our academics warn that Airbnb is too big for Australian policy makers to ignore: “Policymakers increasingly need to consider the impacts of Airbnb and other sharing economy platforms”. NSW State Political Leaders (Nationals) John Barilaro’s Dungowan Estate and (Labor) Jodi McKay’s Kia Ora Retreat, plus an unknown number of other MPs and Local Government Staffers, are firmly attached to theteat of the Airbnb cash cow. Does this alone explain the lack of critical enforcement action against illegal short-term rental listings?

One needs also consider the impact that Social and mainstream Media ‘influencers’ are wielding. Travel writers often ask for free accommodation at Airbnb or Stayz properties in exchange for promises of media exposure, while bolstering their requests through a ‘media kit’ showing their number of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest followers and engagement figures. In return, short-term rental operatives are being coached on how best to access and profit from the work of ‘influencers’. There are too ‘influencers’ simply dropping the names of their publications/media outlets in order to access free accommodation whilst holidaying privately, adding to the thin veneer of scams multiplying across the Airbnb network.

For over two years, an apartment owned and occupied by a City of Sydney Councillor was listed through Airbnb, with the Councillor’s knowledge of the fake listing. Airbnb’s availability chart showed the property constantly booked – minimum seven-night booking at $17,500 per week or $910,000 per year. Not a single review ever appeared. Only after our report to NSW State Crime Command’s Cyber Crime division of possible money laundering, did the property quietly disappeared from Airbnb’s platform.

Sydney landlord ‘Air’ has 81 apartments listed with Airbnb. His/her/their model is identical to that at the centre of a scam reported by the UK’s James Temperton. The operation involves a network of accounts that have been pumping out fake listings and reviews for years and encompasses more than 200 listings. At its centre is a Battersea apartment block in London that is being run as an illegal hotel. When Temperton stayed there he was put in the wrong apartment. One group in the building complained of a missing bedroom. Another of an empty kitchen. Temperton decided to investigate and soon discovered the scam was far bigger than this one building. The Airbnb accounts he uncovered had spent years posting fake guest reviews, fake listings and fake ‘hosts’; ‘hosts’ listed had photographs of, amongst others, the CEO of a Brazilian wireless carrier. The Battersea building has 24 apartments, yet it was listed 28 times on Airbnb’s platform. The duplicate listings were just the start. In some instances the scammers used mirrored versions of images to make it appear as though they were listing two different properties. In reviews, Airbnb clients complained of being checked into properties they didn’t book, of being told to lie about their identities, of having reservations cancelled with less than 24 hours notice, and of being asked to leave positive reviews in exchange for discounted rates in the future. The company outsourced the management of its rentals to a Philippines call centre. In reviews, clients complained of being lied to and abused by call centre staff and of receiving woeful levels of service. When Temperton phoned to complain, the operator hung up on him. Airbnb has suspended all the ‘host’ accounts and listings uncovered by Temperton while it investigates. Temperton writes: “The scam is laughably easy to replicate. As one person in the industry told me, rules around Airbnb are basically impossible for the authorities to police.” Airbnb denies this. Temperton’s full report can be found here. As per the norm, zero Media coverage or action against Australian scammers.

The West Australian Parliament has released a 13-page report (see here) into the regulation of short-stay accommodation in WA. There is no mention of the need for compliance with Federal Construction Codes or Disability Access Legislation. Land use definitions will simply differentiate between hosted and unhosted Short-Term Rentals. The Real Estate Industry of WA is reminded of Code requirements and Australian Consumer Law, alerting them to matters that purchasers should consider at the time of purchase and use of properties. Subject to legal advice, all previous mandatory alerts and consideration of residential property use would see WA residential title deed holders’ proprietary rights retrospectively squashed by commercial short-term rental use of neighbouring homes.

Last week the ABC’s 7:30 dedicated real time to the state of housing: (Monday) How a booming property market is turning home ownership into a distant dream, (Tuesday) Why more of us may be renting for life, (Wednesday) How State and Federal governments are helping fuel the property boom, and (Thursday) The housing density debate – will building more apartments make property cheaper? The ABC also reports that, due to the recent bushfires and the coronavirus, a drop off in tourist numbers may see homes returned to the housing market. Cairns Airbnb operators are taking a huge hit and considering returning housing to long-term tenants. Writes one commentator: “The reckless flipping of homes from residential to commercial and back to residential needs to stop.”

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