A man faces a possible $100,000 fine after Byron Shire Council (BSC) shut down what it claims was an illegal backpacker hostel in Byron Bay on Friday.
The council has issued a court attendance notice to the man, whom it alleges was using his industrial unit in the Byron Arts and Industry Estate to house up to 20 backpackers.
BSC claims the man did not have consent to operate the hostel and it was in an area not zoned for tourist operations.
The maximum penalty for using land without consent is $100,000.
A spokesperson said BSC took the action after complaints from nearby residents.
A council officer first spoke with the man in February, warning him he did not have approval to use the industrial unit as a hostel, the spokesperson said.
On April 16, after further community complaints and surveillance by Council staff, the property was raided by BSC staff, police and fire brigade officers.
The spokesperson said staff found a number of mattresses on the premises, construction work, locked exits and no smoke alarms.
The man was again interviewed by BSC staff about the use of the industrial unit as an alleged illegal backpacker hostel last Tuesday.
Council’s Governance Manager, Ralph James, said the reason for the action was ‘to protect sustainable tourism in the Byron Shire’.
‘Tourism makes a really important contribution to our local economy,’ he said.
‘Council wants to work with the community to make sure the type of tourism being carried on is safe for visitors, and ensures they have a positive experience when they come to the Byron Shire.
‘Part of making sure our visitors are kept safe is stopping those isolated instances where someone allegedly does the wrong thing.
‘By ending these kinds of alleged practices, Council is seeking to keep visitors safe, maintain resident amenity by ensuring tourism is carried on in a sustainable way, and protect the business of legitimate tourism operators who are doing the right thing.’
Mr James thanked the community members who alerted Council to the alleged illegal hostel.
‘We encourage other residents to notify us where they think similar circumstances are occurring,’ he said.
‘Council and the community working together is the best way to ensure we achieve our goal of creating a sustainable community where tourism enhances the region for residents and visitors alike.’
The matter will come up for mention at Byron Bay Local Court on May 24.