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‘Air BnB’ to blame for Byron’s rental woes: mayor

Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson says websites like Air Bnb are making more difficult for councils to control holiday letting. Photo Eve Jeffery

Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson says websites like Air BnB are making it more difficult for councils to control holiday letting. Photo Eve Jeffery

Chris Dobney

Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson has dismissed suggestions by his predecessor and fellow Greens colleague Jan Barham that the Council should take a hard line with the shire’s holiday-let owners.

Instead, he has urged the state government to allow councils to create precincts where holiday-letting could occur and others where it would not be allowed.

Ms Barham made her suggestion on ABC radio yesterday after revelations in the latest Anglicare nationwide rental snapshot that showed on a given weekend in April there was not a single property for rent in Byron Bay that would meet the budget of someone on the minimum wage.

The issue of holiday lets has been a running sore for the shire, which has up to 20 per cent of its rental housing stock locked up by it, according to Ms Barham.

‘I think the Gosford Land and Environment Court decision last year very clearly outlined… that it is a planning issue when a dwelling is approved as a residential dwelling and it’s obvious it’s being used on a permanent basis for tourism purposes,’ she told ABC radio yesterday morning.

‘That’s a compliance issue – and Council should act.

‘When people are using approved housing for investment and commercial purposes, that’s adding to the pressure,’ she said

Mr Richardson told ABC radio yesterday evening that websites such as Air Bnb were adding to the Council’s woes, implying local government was powerless to stop them.

‘Have a look on Air Bnb and you’ll see hundreds of rentals in Byron Bay, hundreds and hundreds,’ he said.

‘There’s everything from a room in a house to entire homes for rent,’ he added.

When asked for further comment by Echonetdaily he said that the rising popularity of websites such as Air Bnb, while it didn’t put the issue ‘beyond our control’ did make it ‘more difficult’ for councils.

‘State planning support for local circumstances is the most crucial piece of the puzzle,’ he said.

He added that local areas needed ‘the ability to determine what is appropriate for them.’

‘Allowing local areas to create precincts, for example, could inform all where it is permissible and acceptable and where it isn’t,’ he said.

‘This would provide clarity for those buying in an area seeking a vibrant community and those investing in a holiday let.

‘Some local areas could make their whole town a holiday-let precinct; others like Byron could use it to manage holiday-letting so it allows the visitor economy to develop whilst quarantining areas to still look after the community, who are the ultimate guardians of the area and the key ingredient in what makes Byron an attractive destination.

‘It is the community that creates the vibe visitors love and it is the community that act as guardians of the land and places, so it is crucial the community is protected for both the integrity of the community and the visitor experience.’

Meanwhile Byron Shire executive manager of planning Ray Darney said several workshops on holiday letting were held during 2013.

‘As a result of the workshops, a discussion paper is currently being prepared outlining holiday letting issues and a number of options to regulate. This will include revisiting a precinct model plus an open model with development applications required to meet strict regulations on dwelling size and noise.’

The discussion paper will go to key stakeholders for feedback and then help inform a Holiday Letting Strategy. When completed the new strategy will be put forward to all Byron Shire residents and ratepayers for comment.

Mr Darney said Council has been grappling with the issue of affordable housing for many years now and was no different to many other locations in Australia.

‘Back in 2009, Council removed significant developer fees to encourage secondary dwellings (granny flats) in urban zones; over 230 have been approved. These approvals do not permit holiday letting.

‘Plus currently we are moving towards greater flexibility in the design of dual occupancies on rural properties to encourage continued use of older existing housing stock. Infill development in the urban areas is also a key area that Councils can assist with providing a greater supply affordable housing which can ease supply and demand.

‘Council has also recently had on public exhibition a development application for a 20 room boarding house, which is yet to be determined, for singles and couples.’

Mr Darney said that whilst affordable housing was a local issue, it desperately needed state and federal support.

‘There is next to no public housing in Byron Shire. And the lion’s share of funding for properties is allocated to metropolitan and larger regional areas. The alternative is for Council to continue to encourage the private sector to provide affordable housing options and increase the supply of housing through its planning controls,’ he said.


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13 responses to “‘Air BnB’ to blame for Byron’s rental woes: mayor”

  1. dave west says:

    Sloppy article. The mayor knows backyard tourism and tax avoidance is a deeply embedded culture in Byron. Along with absentee landlords particularly in the retail area. Mr Darney is also plain wrong there is no such thing as ‘affordable housing’ – it is a mere weasel word. More broadly it is a grand hypocrisy for theGreens to continue to support the carbon heavy, million or so tourists that come here each year. This addiction to mega emissions via tourism is what many are protesting in the CSG and Coal sector yet our emissions and science denial must be similar. Let the breathtaking threatre continue. Start by divesting from the Greens…just kidding

  2. David says:

    Is there any affordable housing in Ballina?

    Why does it have to be in Byron?

  3. Geoffrey Suthon says:

    Holiday lets are a part of the local economy too, with many people who live in Byron Bay, including business owners, owning holiday lets. The fact that a lot of the accommodation is advertised on airbnb also shows a lot of it is locals trying to make extra income. Jan did nothing about holiday lets when she was Mayor, to now suggest it should be stopped is a simplistic solution to a complex issue, an issue that the current council have inherited from the council she presided over.

    • Nigel Smith says:

      Geoffrey, how do you know that many people living in Byron Bay, including business owners, own holiday lets? Which particular valid survey have you drawn this information from? Is your statement just hearsay? Do you have access to the addresses where rates notices are sent for these holiday lets? There are 10 holiday lets within 200 metres of my home and each is owned by absentee owners who live out of the shire..Most of the lets is advertised on Stayz, Fairfax Media owned, with approximately 1000 properties in the Shire advertised and not Airbnb, which originated in the USA.
      If there are so many locals who own holiday lets then they should be on hand to control the inevitable problems that come from them. Better still, being local there shouldn’t be any problems coming from them as they would be community minded and would respect the right of the neighbours to peace and quiet.
      Geoffrey, you need to look carefully at the history of this issue. In 2005, Jan Barham and Council developed precincts and were promised a state wide policy on holiday letting by the then Labor state government. There were powerful interests against them and this failed.
      A NSW Land and Environment Court decision in May 2013 said that holiday letting in residential areas is illegal.
      Geoffrey, please do some research and get your facts correct .

      • Michael H says:

        Enforcing the law is not a “simplistic solution”. It’s what the community needs to move away from a timeshare feel. The Mayor’s concept of a “holiday let precinct” is what’s actually simplistic (and stupid) here. Just imagine door-knocking the existing residents in the golden-grid area (where presumably the “precinct” would be) and asking for their support on the matter of turning their neighbourhood into the designated holiday let precinct. Ha!

        This notion that the Mayor is mulling over the “holiday precinct” idea is nonsense. It’s just a obvious ploy by him to pretend that he’s actually doing something to appease both sides when all he’s doing is stalling. He says that, “local areas needed ‘the ability to determine what is appropriate for them.’” So, if the “precinct” wants to set itself down on your street would you agree to it?

        • Nigel Smith says:

          Michael, I am aware of some streets where almost half the houses are holiday let. The permanent residents feel powerless, but are angry, about the situation. These areas will probably be destined for future holiday letting. They don’t want holiday letting now and won’t in the future. The mayor has said that precincts will give people a choice. Either sell and go, or, buy in and set up a profitable holiday let. There are many permanent residents who like where they live but they don’t like the disruptions of a next door holiday let. They bought into a residential area, not a commercial zone. Many will reluctantly leave, forced out by commercial interests from the holiday ghetto that will be created.

          The only solution is to take legal action.

  4. Michael H. says:

    Don’t shoot the messenger – don’t blame AirBnB – they’re just a conduit between greedy owners and unaware holidaymakers. Blame the ineffective Mayor and the Council for not enforcing their own LEP laws.

    If holiday letters knew their were enforced, heavy repercussions to their illegal holiday lets then they wouldn’t be putting their properties up on AirBnB in the first place. In most cases they’d sell-up or rent (full time) which, in turn would drive costs down to affordable levels as more properties hit the market. Simple supply and demand. The community would begin to feel whole and not like the timeshare villa that it does right now.

  5. Harold Ryam says:

    I completely agree with Jan Barham. Mayor Simon Richardson and the other Byron councillors know that holiday letting in 2(a) Residential Zones is illegal. They have seen a legal judgement in the LEC and have been given legal opinion by Ray Darney that it is illegal. Move a motion councillors instructing your compliance department to commence legal action against the illegal holiday lets. By not doing this our council is complicit in breaking their own Planning Laws.

    Mayor Richardson knows that permanent residents will not accept holiday lets beside their own homes because they are well aware of how difficult it is to control the anti-social and disruptive behaviour of many holiday makers. Put simply the occupiers of holiday lets and permanent residences have completely different agendas. Council will have a very difficult task convincing permanent residents that their rights to have a degree of peace and quiet in their neighborhood will be protected.

  6. reggie plummer says:

    Holiday lets are part of a tourism industry and clearly not permitted in a residential Zoning. Why is mayor Richardson dodging the issue? holiday letting is illegal and anti social. It rarely contributes to the local economy and any small benefit (cleaners jobs?) to the community is offset by the enormous cost in reduction in available housing stock, increase in rents and house prices, noise, extra load on sewage and general disrupt to the community. They are unapproved and therefore un-insured for public liability exposing the council wide open for litigation.
    The only people who like holiday letting are the people who own them, and a lot of them dont live here, so the earnings are sent and spent in sydney melbourne etc.
    The original houses in town have become industrial (tourism is an industry) and the industrial estate has become residential.
    why should we socially and economically subsidise this illegal industry?
    If i wanted to open up a panel beating shop in Kingsley street the council would shut nme down in about week. yet i would employ local people and provide skill training for my aprentices provide a service to local people and spend my earnings in town. plus i would finish up at 4.30 and close at weekends. Unlike the business of holiday letting.

  7. peter brush says:

    Wow, lots of unsupported claims and assertions above! opinions stated as facts>Really?
    as a general comment, a special thing about Byron for me,is that big govt and big corporate interests do not YET control the agenda and future development. This could easily change unless strong smart realistic local leadership drives a strong local agenda. So good for you mayor for being realistic about this issue.
    It would be great to see Byron Bay turn itself into a centre for fostering, showcasing and teaching the business of environmentally sustainable and regenerational living. byron already has a tourist base that is open to such. generally they do not come for big corporate type resort accommodation and eating. taking this approach will be beneficial to everyone!
    Specific to the holiday letting issue, holiday letting by small land holders is a way that regular people can afford to live in Byron Bay. It is not just about money for either party in these lettings. it connects people and fosters community much more than a stay in a hotel room or big resort does. A precinct for this seems like a great idea. it would level the playing field and help limit the disturbance of neighbours. i do have a problem with absentee landlords doing holiday letting as it has far less positive benefit to the local economy and encourages higher housing prices. this to me is a more important issue to address.

    • N Williams says:

      Peter, you obviously have not had an illegal holiday let beside where you live, disrupting your life with all types of loud noise, parties to the early hours of the morning and overcrowding.When you have to go to work the following day then you become intolerant of their holiday party mode. This happens regularly! Check on Stayz and you see that many of these places charge $1000 plus a day. This is why holiday makers arrive with 2 or 3 other families so that they can party and holiday.

      Peter, you need to talk to the neighbours of these illegal, out of control holiday lets, and you will receive a different and realistic story to the “feel good” attitude that you are spouting.

  8. Nicqui Yazdi says:

    One of the biggest issues with rental housing that is available in Byron is the incredibly inflated cost. A typical situation that arises, is where you will find 5-6 people sharing a 2-3 bedroom apartment, just to be able to afford these rents. I have one close to where I live, that is essentially three bedrooms, that often has 5-7 tenants, also even living in the garage and in the lounge room. This apartment has just gone up for rent again at $550 a week… There are a lot of houses with up to three students crammed into a small bedroom, with the real ‘rental’ tenants essentially sub-letting their rooms to be able to afford, once again, to pay the inflated rents. But in many cases, these ‘tenants’ are also making a packet-load on this type of ‘sub-letting’, taking advantage of the fact that there is no real affordable housing whatsoever, for students or those on low to middle incomes! The ‘boarding house’ mentioned in this article is also just around the corner from my place. BUT, it is not [what I would call] a ‘boarding house’, these will be 20 separate dwellings on a block that’s not much bigger than a normal house block. From what I can see, it only has parking for 8 vehicles, another issue that arises with high density living, the increase in those having to park on the streets. There needs to be some kind of regulation happen in Byron, with regard to ‘holiday lets’… and just plain greedy tenants taking advantage of the lack of affordable rentals. There are many cases just like the ‘schoolies slumlord’ of a few years ago, and these should be addressed.

  9. N Williams says:

    What is wrong with Byron Shire councillors? Can’t they read? They have received legal advice that holiday letting in 2(a) residential zones has always been illegal. Stop colluding with the illegal holiday lets councillors and prosecute as you are legally obliged to do. Prosecute a few, and, based on the precedent set, any legal action is bound to win. The rest of the illegal holiday lets will get the message and stop their illegal activities. Court costs will be awarded to council and if this is not paid, then place a caveat on the property. Keep on renewing the caveat until costs are paid. The owner of the property would have difficulty selling their property.

    Residents will be extremely interested in seeing Ray Darney’s options for future holiday letting. The open option mentioned in the article, with strict regulations on size and noise, is extremely worrying. Based on the lack of action in the past council will not be able to control the problems that have always occurred.

    The only way to solve this problem is for individual residents to take legal action against the illegal holiday lets.

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