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Byron Shire
March 5, 2021

Mattresses on floor at unauthorised backpackers

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Byron Shire Council is cracking down on unauthorised tourism accommodation, with the council moving to close down two operations at opposite ends of the tourism spectrum.

Mayor Jan Barham said she was shocked to hear of conditions at an unauthorised backpackers’ hostel in Byron Bay where 10 backpackers and eight schoolies were staying. The accommodation consisted of mattresses on the floor.

‘Where bad things happen and people face conditions like this it affects all of us,’ she told the media this morning.

‘Where people in our own community are prepared to do this you really have to wonder what’s going on,’ she added.

At the other end of the scale, Council is looking to close down luxury accommodation in nearby Shirley Street because it lacks permission to operate.

The luxury apartments are being let for up to $9000 per week but have not sought approval to operate and Council officers claim that given they are in a residential zone 2(a) means approval could never be granted for a tourism operation.

On Friday, Byron Shire Council’s health and compliance team, together with police, raided the property at 139 Jonson Street, Byron Bay.

The search warrant was executed after complaints from neighbours, as well as Council being alerted to internet ads promoting schoolies accommodation at the property.

Council’s governance manager, Ralph James, said Council staff were appalled at what they found during the raid.

‘Council staff discovered the garage was being used for dormitory-style accommodation comprising mattresses on the floor, which lacked adequate ventilation or damp-proofing to maintain healthy conditions,’ he said.

‘What was also incredibly worrying for staff is that the premises lacked basic fire safety measures. Both smoke alarms and a single fire extinguisher in the dwelling were not operational, and the buildings did not comply with relevant fire safety standards.

‘It is Council’s view that the premises posed a significant fire safety risk to the occupants.

‘Further, food and hygiene standards were unsatisfactory and posed a significant risk to the health of the occupants.

‘There was minimal access to toilet, bath and laundry facilities to maintain clean and healthy conditions for the number of persons occupying the premises.

‘The premises were constructed with asbestos building products that were in a dilapidated state, which also posed a health risk to the occupants.’

Mr James also said the young people staying in the property had been charged an excessive amount of money for the accommodation they had been provided.

‘Eight young people staying in the property as part of their schoolies celebrations told Council staff they had paid $800 each for the week to stay in a property which clearly lacked even the most basic health and safety measures,’ he said.

‘For property owners to take advantage of young visitors simply looking to have an enjoyable time in the Byron Shire is inexcusable.

‘It is one thing to place too many people in a single dwelling and run the serious risk of a tragedy occurring had something gone wrong at the property, particularly during a week where people are often busy having a good time and acting in a carefree manner.

‘But to charge an exorbitant amount of money for something so potentially dangerous is simply not on.’

Mr James said the owner of the property was issued with a court attendance notice for 8 December 2011 at the Byron Local Court.

Council has also issued an emergency order stop the property from being used as an accommodation venue.

The search took place just one day after a Council meeting discussed the importance of regulating unauthorised holiday accommodation.

Mr James added that the crackdown would continue.

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