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Looking across our Harbour two days ago, Tim Ritchie photographed the Shangri-La Hotel. With all 565 rooms empty, Management are sending a message to locals (see photo or link). One expects that many of the Shangri-La’s employees and sub-contractors are doing it very tough. And that’s just one hotel. Data from Inside Airbnb indicates that between 7 January-9 May 2020, the number of homes listed by Airbnb (only) across the Sydney Metropolitan Area dropped from 41,671 to 37,524 – leaving the 37,500+ homes to compete with our accredited accommodation providers and their employees. The City of Sydney Council area had 10,877 Airbnbs; come May and COVID-19, that number had decreased to 9,592 Airbnb properties, with ‘hosts’ vowing to return as soon as restrictions lift.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro was ahead of competitors; as noted in our Media Release of 15 May, John Barilaro, Jodi McKay and other Members of Parliament were already taking bookings for their Airbnb properties. On 19 May the Deputy Premier announced: “Christmas has come early and that first shout’s on me…regional travel restrictions lifted.” The following day, Susan Wheeldon, Airbnb’s country manager, told The Australian, that Airbnb had experienced a strong resurgence in the number of people planning trips for later in the year and into 2021. Social Media too is abuzz with NSW Airbnb landlords trumpeting the return of enquiries and bookings, while few are mentioning what, if any, specific precautions have been implemented to safeguard against COVID-19 transmission.

State Ministers have repeatedly told the Media, who have simply parroted the lie, that NSW has implemented a “crackdown” on Airbnb-type rentals. And with no legal avenues now open to those subjected to anti-social behaviour from unverified visitors, the Minister responsible for Fair Trading, Matthew Kean, said some time ago: “We are about to introduce the toughest laws in the world when it comes to bad behaviour.” An empty guarantee? Well, yes.

The reality for NSW residents: Existing development consent conditions that prohibit short-term rentals are now unenforceable. This, despite NSW Innovation and Better Regulation being advised by one of our State’s Senior Counsels specialising in Planning, Environment and Local Government Law, and building and construction, that such a move by Parliament would be akin to an acquisition of valuable proprietary rights without compensation.

Ministers have always advanced the notion that, for strata residents, a ‘quick fix’ by-law could be adopted by an owners corporation that would block short-term rentals. But not if it is claimed that the lots are the “principal place of residence” of a landlord or tenant. A ‘tenant’ could have any number of leases and claim each property as his/her principal place of residence. And will such a by-law pass?

As a clear indication of how unworkable the notion of this by-law is, last week residents in one Sydney residential building saw rejected a motion seeking the introduction of the by-law plus implementation of a review of security devices that allow entry to the building and all common property facilities. Indeed, all motions presented were defeated “unanimously” by those present, those voting against stating that they “do not consider any motion on the Agenda with claims on management or governance of the Strata are appropriate.” They resolved to vote against all motions. Those voting included the Chairman, a former Member of State Parliament whose property is listed on Land and Environment Court Orders banning his short-term rentals, plus a Committee Member – a Building Certifier who is contactable through and listed among the City of Sydney’s Building Certifiers.

The lack of action on short-term holiday rentals by Councils, such as the City of Sydney, has been described as a ‘betrayal’ of residents'. The NSW Government’s policy towards Airbnb, Stayz, ASTRA and its cohort is correctly reported as ‘littered with loopholes’. A “gross betrayal”, is how Sydney MP Alex Greenwich described changes to short-term letting legislation; residents and homeowners are left powerless.

NSW Parliamentarians have also ignored multiple coronial inquiries plus a criminality report on crime in high-rise buildings. Thankfully we do not have the same level of gun related crime and deaths as North America – a 17-year-old girl was ‘accidentally’ shot in the head this weekend, bringing to at least 80 Airbnb shootings in the past year – however, three men have today been charged with murder over the death of a 19-year-old who has fallen to his death from a Surfers Paradise apartment building.

Residents are well within their rights to feel that our State Parliamentarians have betrayed us. We are still asking exactly how many of our MPs have their snouts in the Airbnb trough? Why else would any investor – be they overseas or interstate based – plus any tenant, including social housing occupants – be granted the ‘right’ to sublet as many homes as one’s heart desires as short-term rentals across an unlimited number of unaccountable booking platforms?

Not only are home owners betrayed, as was predicted and well noted by the NSW Land and Environment Court, NSW has lost control of Planning and Tourism.

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