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We Have a Housing Crisis - Wake Up NSW!

The Tenants Union of Tasmania, in response to a crippling acute housing crisis and the ‘Airbnb Monopoly squeeze on the property market’, is calling for restrictions on short-term stay accommodation plus ‘empty house’ penalties to incentivise landlords to rent housing long-term to tenants. If the dire housing situation in that State wasn’t bad enough, Tasmanian Greens MP Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP raised in Parliament with Minister for Consumer Affairs/Attorney General Elise Archer MP, the actions of the Tasmanian Residential Rental Property Owners Association, (TRRPOA), specifically the association president Louise Elliot’s announcement that she would be running for election to the Hobart City Council. The TRRPOA writes: “It is the Government’s role to provide social housing…private rental properties are not the housing safety net; they are privately owned assets that operate in a supply and demand environment…landlords should retain their fair rights to set the price for their product…(and) end a fixed-term lease when it has run its course.” According to an ABC report, the TRRPOA's Louise Elliot and her husband have three houses, one of which is listed on Airbnb for around $800/night. Elliot also runs a private Facebook TRRPOA group with a total of 114 Members. Perhaps what upsets other State MPs the most is the Tasmanian Government’s $100,000 handout awarded to the Tasmanian Residential Property Owners Association. Truth be known, with 1,448 Facebook Followers, Neighbours Not Strangers would very much welcome a government handout of $100,000…and would immediately redirect all funds to our chosen Homeless Organisation.

According to Tasmanian government records, the Hon. Elise Archer MP who was responsible for the government grant to Elliot lists four properties on her disclosure to Parliament - she either possess ‘sole legal title’, ‘legal title with somebody else’, enjoys ‘the benefits of ownership…even though the legal title is in another name’, and the ‘current right to possession and enjoyment of the property and its income until (her) death’. Archer’s reasoning for awarding funds to the TRRPOA: “…they would get $50,000 per annum, only for two years for the set-up costs to familiarise their (114) members with their obligations under the Residential Tenancy Act 1997, so we can help resolve disputes - or even prevent disputes between landlords and tenants from occurring in the first place.” Fact is, short-term rental occupants are granted a ‘license to occupy’ - we are unsure why a Minister of the State - the Attorney General no less - would confuse this with a residential tenancy agreement.

On Wednesday, Byron Shire’s Echo quoted JohnGudgeon from Holiday Letting Organisation (HLO) offering excuses as to why Airbnb landlords were failing to register properties with the NSW Department of Fair Trading’s short-term rental register, or alternatively claiming that they were ‘Exempt’ from the licensing process. Also quoted in the article was a representative from Byron’s Victims of Holiday Letting (VOHL), who made the point that Airbnb was accepting a landlord’s ‘exempt’ claim on face value. Airbnb, and other such platforms, are wrong in doing this. They are also clearly in breach of legislation by continuing to advertise properties without legitimate license numbers. The VOHL representative has today advised that he has had a long conversation with staff at NSW Fair Trading who work exclusively on the Short-Term Rental Accommodation registry:

“They (Fair Trading) are overwhelmed with the number of issues. They said that they and the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) are well aware of the large number of unregistered short-term rentals in NSW and those that falsely claim that they are ‘exempt’.”

Murray Cox from Inside Airbnb continues to assist residents with data on Airbnb listings in the Sydney Metropolitan Area as well as the Byron Shire. Murray Cox’s research demonstrates how utterly inadequate is the NSW legislation, with zero platform accountability for unregistered listings, no data sharing between Councils, and with landlords self-selecting an exemption that requires no verification or approval - not even the need to register. Inside Airbnb has again today updated Byron Shire figures, which have been forwarded to VOHL representatives and Neighbours Not Strangers.

Colleagues in Melbourne - We Live Here Movement - have volunteered that if our politicians are going to learn from other cities facing similar problems, they might care to consult with two sedulous researchers from the University of Queensland, Dorine von Briel and Sara Dolnicar, who have been studying the effect of short stays in cities around the world and the regulations that have been framed in response. They have published a paper: The evolution of Airbnb regulations, in which they identify a global trend toward increasingly strict rules and stiff penalties targeting an industry that is underreported and difficult to monitor. Following are a just a few observations from reviewing this recent research paper:

  • Berlin State enforces annual registration with €100,000 fines for non-compliance. Hosts can only rent their property as a short stay for 90 days a year – and the host must apply for “change of use” permission. The penalty for non-compliance is a whopping €500,000 (A$800,000).

  • London City’s power of persuasion helped it thrash out an agreement with Airbnb to limit listings to 90 days per year. Yes, the corporate colossus Airbnb agreed not to challenge the rule in court.

  • New York enforces registration of all short-stay listings, with fines for non-compliance ranging from US$1,000 for a first offence to US$7,500 for a third strike.

  • Paris Local Municipalities can set annual limits, impose heavy fines on non-compliant hosts, and force hosts to disclose their records to the council. All building co-owners must vote and all must agree to having short-stays in the building.

  • San Francisco - any new building in San Francisco that will allow short stays must have planning approval. The city has also introduced limits and disclosure rules on political funding and controls over politicians’ short-stay interests.

Under new legislation in New South Wales, companies like Airbnb that list illegal short-term rentals face fines of up to $110,000; individuals can face a $20,000 fine. For the likes of Airbnb or those individuals with 20 or 200 or 400 short-term rentals, these penalties would in many cases be no deterrent whatsoever.

Louise Elliot told the Tasmanian Parliament in the closing line of her submission: “I should have the freedom to do as I wish with my property.” It is deeply, deeply regrettable that, like Ms Elliot, so many thousands of NSW residents who, in the clear understanding that the ‘asset’ they were purchasing was residential housing, are flipping homes onto the short-term rental market. And that thousands upon thousands upon thousands of neighbouring residents are seeing their proprietary rights violated, and so too the rights of those needing secure, affordable housing.

Wake up New South Wales! We have a housing crisis and there is action that only Local Government Authorities have the legal right to proceed with in our courts.


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