Signage outside holiday let premises, the introduction of development consent and higher rate charges are just some of the measures Byron Shire Council has put forward as part of its strategy to manage the industry.
The adoption of the Byron Shire Short Term Holiday Accommodation Action Plan at last Thursday’s meeting aims to address the community’s demand for peaceful amenity and the assumed rights of property owners to profit from holiday letting.
Both industry representatives and affected residents addressed Council during public access to voice their concerns and neither was happy with council’s compromise solution.
John Gudgeon, representing the Holiday Letting Organisation (HLO), told the chamber on Thursday that while it was encouraging to see the issue moving towards a ‘real and practical’ arrangement, ‘it’s unfortunately fundamentally flawed.’
He said his group’s submission to the plans flagged that development consent planning methods were not going to be legally binding. ‘Subsequent advice has reinforced that position. So while we support the concept of limiting size, as far as management and behavioural management is concerned, we are really concerned that Council is pursuing this and question whether it will be sustainable in the future.
‘I have contacted the general manager with this advice and asked to discuss this with staff but didn’t get a reply.’
Regarding forcing holiday let property owners to apply for development consent, Mr Gudgeon said it is not substantively changing the use of the dwelling.
‘Council just hasn’t the power or right to do that. The use is still residential which has been reinforced by courts right throughout Australia.’
He brought up the landmark Terrigal holiday let decision [see below]. ‘Council misunderstood the effects of that decision, and it shouldn’t be used as a precedent for what happens in other places.’
And as for reclassifying rates from residential to businesses, he said, ‘That is simply not permissible, and there’s plenty of evidence for that. This cannot be legally enforced. It makes no sense to proceed unless the strategy can be effective and sustained. We want council to go back to the table.’
Robert Rosen, representing holiday letting operators in Brunswick Heads and the town’s chamber of commerce, told the chamber it had ‘positive elements’, it needs to be simpler, and there were ‘poorly defined regulatory requirements’.
‘For example: complaints. [It is suggested to be] 24 hours with 30-minute notice. Surely security services could be included in that as well. Fire requirements are more stringent than for a normal house. There’s no empirical evidence that there is a higher fire risk from short-term accommodation.’
Mr Rosen also made the bold claim that holidaymakers had a lower impact on council resources than residents.
Favours holiday owners: VOHL
Meanwhile, Victims Of Holiday Letting’s (VOHL) Doug Luke told councillors that the policy ‘favours holiday owners over the rights of residents and their peaceful enjoyment of their homes.’
‘This is a huge diversion from affordable residential rentals. In my 18 years here I’ve seen holiday letting increase fivefold and have seen people forced out of town and seen share housing with four or five or more occupants. ABC Radio just reported that Byron Bay comes out as the least affordable housing in NSW.’
Regarding applying business rates, he said, ‘Surely if you are running a business then you pay business rates. Please don’t burden ratepayers with holiday letting. If neighbours are disturbed they have a right to complain… there is still intimidation.’
He suggested the owner/ manager must attend in person to accurately assess the complaint.
‘There will be three and half years before this plan can have any faults rectified. One year for gazettal, one year moratorium and up to 18 months for review. In the meantime, for the sake of residents, please authorise compliance officers to take legal action against disruptive holiday let properties. Otherwise it’s business as usual.’ The plans are expected to go on public exhibition shortly.
The Terrigal decision
Holiday letting has been a contentious issue for many years; the state government has provided little to no guidance to councils, who have been left to manage it by themselves in conjunction with holiday letters.
While Byron Bay has been a particular focal point owing to the large number of holiday let homes, a landmark court case in May 2013 found that short-term holiday letting at a house in Terrigal in NSW was illegal.
Newscorp reported at the time that the judge ‘found the fault was not entirely [the defendant] Ms Bennic, as she had never been told by Gosford Council that it was illegal to rent out her property.’