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This Friday, 10 April, amendments to the Fair Trading Act 1987, Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 and the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 will commence.  The effect is that some, just some, owners corporations may be able to pass a by-law that will prohibit Airbnb-type rentals within a scheme, but only if the residential lots are not the principal place of residence of the ‘host’.  Short-term rental arrangements of three months or less do not and will not fall under residential tenancies laws.  At around 2:00pm yesterday, Tuesday, the A/Policy Officer, Policy & Strategy, Better Regulation Division NSW Government sent an email to some to update on “progress with the NSW Government’s short-term rental accommodation regulatory framework”.   Three hours earlier, at 11:00 yesterday (or 2:00am Dublin time), Airbnb Ireland emailed NSW landlords, quoting the Better Regulation Division NSW Government’s announcement.  It would seem that the NSW Government is working ‘hand-in-glove’ with Airbnb, and that Airbnb is setting the pace and terms of government policy.  A copy of the Airbnb email is below. Leading strata lawyer Amanda Farmer, of Sydney legal practice Lawyers Chambers, said Airbnb’s message to hosts is disgraceful and would appear to be a transparent attempt to prioritise profits over the safety of residents in strata schemes:  “The new strata law taking effect on 10 April gives apartment buildings the legal right to ban investor owners from short term letting their apartments.  However, the building must first convene a general meeting to resolve to adopt this new law.  I have seen Airbnb’s email sent out to hosts. It is deplorable. It tells hosts that current NSW Fair Trading guidance is to avoid in-person meetings, and that meetings can only be held electronically if a resolution is first passed in-person permitting this.  Reading between the lines, this looks like Airbnb is telling apartment owners that they have nothing to worry about and can keep letting their apartments via the platform despite this new law and despite the government’s Public Health Order directing people to stay at home.”

Around 150 Airbnb listings in the City of Sydney Council area alone are advertising ‘self-isolation’.  Reuben Schwarz from BnbGuard said the offering of short-term quarantine apartments had been a “whole new can of worms” in the short-term rental space, which was already problematic prior to COVID-19.  “While many (not all) listings advertise extra cleaning to deal with the pandemic, we don’t know how many are actually doing it.  So future guests at that property could be at risk.”  See photo of Newcastle-based Airbnb ‘cleaning crew’.  This Airbnb operator – 9 Airbnb listings – has posted photos to social media of small children present during the cleaning of Airbnb properties, despite the flood of media and Federal legislation dealing with the cleansing of accommodation premises.

Jane Hearn, Acting Chair of the Owners Corporation Network, was interviewed by ABC radio.  The topic of conversation was the so-called ‘Code of Conduct’ that was to be introduced into legislation but has been mysteriously shelved by Parliament.  The OCN was the only residents group invited by Government to liaise on this issue.  Others – NSW Council for Civil Liberties plus all other resident groups who have worked and lobbied on this issue for over a decade – were excluded from the consultation process.

With no assistance forthcoming from the City of Sydney, some residents in strata buildings are taking issues into their own hands and placing notices at entry points in an attempt to repel illegal short-term rentals (see photo).  And in terms of those in residential apartments, Flat Chat journalist Jimmy Thomson writes of the Airbnb Code of Conduct clusterfunk and Fair Trading’s back steps.

Short-term rental operators make money by breaking the law.  Their, and Airbnb’s attitude is:  ‘Catch us if you can!’  All the while Airbnb has claimed that they are Mums and Dads trying to ‘make ends meet’.  With the flood of properties being returned to the long-term rental market, that myth is dead.  Airbnb and other platforms can no longer deny the link between commercial tourist use of residential properties, vacancy rates and rental affordability.

The Public Health Order on ‘restriction on movement’ makes it illegal for any person to undertake non-essential travel.  It is a crime to breach the order.  NSW Police:  “Anyone who has information regarding individuals or businesses in contravention of a COVID-19-related ministerial direction is urged to contact Crime Stoppers:  Information is treated in strict confidence.  The public is reminded not to report crime via NSW Police social media pages.”

The concern now:  That Airbnb, Expedia/Stayz et al are driving the agenda with NSW Minister for Planning Rob Stokes and his Department, and that the NSW Parliament will very soon amend the State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPP) NSW to make STRs Exempt and Complying Development, thereby retrospectively sweeping aside the proprietary rights of all NSW residential title deed holders.  The proposed changes to NSW Planning instruments would result in the complete desegregation of housing and tourist accommodation; this will be an absolute disaster for residential communities, renters, owner/occupiers and the accommodation sector.


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