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Airbnb - The NSW Government’s ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ Con

Former NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes’ changes to the State Environmental Planning Policy [SEPP] officially kicked in on 01 November. And it is ‘functioning’, as it was no doubt designed to. That’s to say, it is a sham framework that draws in a pittance in revenue for the State Government and concurrently makes an utter mockery of our Planning framework, all the while undermining the rights of residents to secure, safe, affordable housing. Today’s Sydney Morning Herald recounts two examples (only) in the past six weeks where the NSW Riot Squad has been called to disperse violent Airbnb gatherings. This, despite a world-wide media blitz, picked up again by news organisations everywhere, trumpeting how Airbnb is this festive season ‘cracking down’ on wild disturbances and parties. Assistant Commissioner Peter Thurtell of the NSW Police Force is quoted as saying: “…If you are renting out your property (on Airbnb), we encourage you to build strong relationships with neighbours who can keep you notified of concerning activity.” With the utmost respect Commissioner Thurtell, Airbnb landlords treat neighbours with complete contempt and care naught about their home lives and safety. And our ‘notifications' are regularly met with menacing or violent threats.

A quick scan of Airbnb’s NSW listings reveals many with the word “Exempt” in the license field, while there are still many more unlicensed listings, especially in Sydney. Look more closely and one sees some listings sharing the same license number; some license numbers have upwards of 15 different Airbnb properties under the one number. Who in State Government and/or the Department of Planning is monitoring and investigating the unregistered properties, or those claiming an exemption? We’d volunteer ‘no one’.

Borrowing the words from one who knows, there is obviously a big, predictable problem with the NSW State Government’s registration scheme, if one is able to self-select that the property is ‘exempt’ without any verification whatsoever. And given that which is published in today’s Sydney Morning Herald - “Police are frustrated by Airbnb not providing information they say is required to keep the community safe” - one could be close to 100% certain that Airbnb and its like are not providing Government or our Councils with any data, rendering it still close to impossible for authorities to know the location and identity of those claiming an exemption. It’s not like this problem doesn’t exist elsewhere. And Tasmania is just the latest example of a housing system ‘run off the rails’ due to the rampant penetration of Airbnb and others into their housing stock.

‘Oliver’ at Furnished Properties in Sydney’s George Street has 23 homes listed as Airbnb rentals - or, 26 in total on his dedicated website. We’ve been advised that last year this operator was fined $3,000 for this Airbnb listing. Perhaps emboldened by the new State legislative framework, that creates the ‘exempt development pathway’ for those undertaking this activity, in this particular case it is clear that NSW Planning is aiding and abetting the circumvention of the ‘Residential’ Development Approval on this building - it is clearly stated that tourist/visitor rentals are not permitted - plus NSW Land and Environment Court Orders with Penal Notice on said property.

Under Rob Stokes’ SEPP (51E, g), “the use of the dwelling for the purposes of short-term rental accommodation must otherwise be lawful.”

It would be hard to imagine any Planning authority - Local Council or State Government - taking the view that original consent conditions do not prevail on this Sydney Bridge Street listing. Therefore, such a use is not “otherwise lawful”.

In November, Luke Walton, Executive Director, Housing and Economic Policy, NSW Planning, wrote on behalf of the Hon. Rob Stokes MP (MDPE21/2849): “…we will not be entering into further correspondence with you.” Given Anthony Roberts’ recent return to the Planning portfolio, might he explain how the NSW Government will ensure that ALL online booking platforms immediately remove illegal, uncertified short-term rentals. In Japan, 80% of listings were removed overnight following a threat from the Japanese Government to prosecute Airbnb.

Should Minister Roberts be in any doubt whatsoever, as to the sentiments and distress of NSW Residents forced to endure Airbnb rentals in their residential buildings and neighbourhoods, this guide calmly summarises eight important reasons to thrust a javelin into the heart of Airbnb’s corporate BS and profiteering.


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