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Yesterday’s SMH Domain: “It is now illegal for anyone in NSW to leave their own home to stay in an Airbnb or similar short-term letting agency accommodation without a lawful reason, the government has advised…no one should be staying anywhere else than in their own permanent home, and they could be fined or imprisoned if they were found to be breaking emergency rules. The exemptions include if they’re having to stay…for work, to take care of someone or…education (purposes). NSW Minister for Better Regulation, Kevin Anderson said, “The government advice to prevent the spread of COFID-19 has been very clear – stay in your local area, stay in your home…Anyone in NSW who leaves their house without a ‘reasonable excuse’ could spend up to six months in prison and face a fine of up to $11,000 under the emergency ministerial directive.”

Minister Anderson later backpedalled: “There is no ban on any kind of accommodation…The NSW Government acknowledges that in these circumstances the provision of short-term accommodation is often critical, particularly for our frontline health workers.”

Surely the NSW Minister for ‘Better’ Regulation understands that the complete lack of bio-security measures in most Airbnb-type rentals, plus Airbnb’s insistence that it is not responsible for any facet of operation in the properties listed on its platform, falls potentially deadly short of the protocols in place in registered Hotels, where Medical Staff and those who have returned from overseas are being housed?

Immediately after Minister Anderson’s revised statement, Peta Morrison – ASTRA board member and media representative – took to social media: “Don’t be too concerned. Some media and journalists feel it’s ok to cause fear and sensationalise what’s gong on in our industry. It (Minister Anderson’s statement) was immediately rebuffed…” Morrison’s fellow ASTRA Board Member Joan Bird wrote of the SMH/Domain article: “It was a beat up article by a journalist pandering to a group of anti STRA opponents.” One Airbnb landlord subsequently wrote of a $4,000 bill from a body corporate for cleaning, after a ‘guest’ had tested positive to COVID-19. Joan Bird wrote to the Airbnb forum that “unless it is written into the bylaws” ‘hosts’ cannot be forced to pay.

Owners Corporation Network Acting Chair Jane Hearn: “In a time of a national health crisis, the government is more concerned to protect thousands of illegal listings…than protecting residents. The failure of NSW to honour its commitment is staggering.”

Ontario, Canada, is the latest to ban Airbnb and short-term vacation rentals during the COVID-19 pandemic. And while Airbnb is running the line that Airbnb properties are being provided free of charge to frontline medical staff, “only one Airbnb host contact by BBC News said their rental was available solely to keyworkers”. And breaking essential lockdown rules in the UK can see individuals and businesses facing substantial fines.

Was there perhaps a telephone call yesterday from Airbnb’s Sydney office to Minister Kevin Anderson, immediately after the SMH quoted the Hon Member? Minister Anderson’s electoral offices are in the town of Tamworth, where hundreds of residents fail to meet federal building requirements and ignore residential zoning to cash in on the passing tourist trade. Plus Kevin Anderson’s Parliamentary colleague, Deputy Premier John Barilaro is one who has overlooked declaring his ownership of a multi-million dollar Airbnb rental.

One might think that Airbnb and its landlords would be grateful that Ministers of the NSW Government have turned a blind eye to the fact that they have been operating illegal commercial businesses in residential properties for over a decade, while inflating the cost of rentals in every city and town they have penetrated, concurrently acting in contempt of the rights of neighbouring residents. And surely a pandemic and the lives of fellow residents would take priority?

Neighbours Not Strangers again seeks the NSW Premier’s assistance in immediately banning short-term rentals in all Class 1(a) and Class 2 residential dwellings.


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