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Saving community – the argument against Airbnb

Relaxing in the sun at Byron’s Main Beach. Photo Jeff ‘Sunshine’ Dawson.

Jan Barham

The unauthorised use of residential dwellings for tourism has been contentious in Byron Shire since 2003.

Recently Mayor Richardson spoke about the impact of Airbnb, commenting on the erosion of our community by the so-called ‘share economy’ platform Airbnb.

Simon’s comments are strongly supported by residents but Airbnb representative Brent Thomas accused him of being anti-tourism.

Community value

While most residents accept the impacts of living in a tourism town including the pressures of crowding and increased traffic, it is unacceptable when their neighbourhoods are disrupted and they lose their amenity.

There are some crucial points with this controversial issue. Tourism and business zones are where commercial activities have been deemed appropriate but residential zones are defined to provide areas for community to flourish. This involves the establishment of a permanent community by creating neighbourhoods where people can know who lives next door and in their street. 

Permanent residents are the lifeblood of our community; they provide social and cultural capital and form our volunteer base. Volunteeers contribute to local events including festivals and farmers markets and are the amazing people who give their time to care for all of us as emergency volunteers with the Bush Fire Brigades, SES, Marine Rescue and others. Volunteers also provide many community services supporting our aged, homeless, young and other vulnerable groups. It is residents who have protected and preserved what is precious in our Shire and what has made it the international tourism icon that it is. It is now sadly ironic that tourism is destroying the amenity of locals.

Losing residents

The position often put by the ‘sharing’ economy platforms and advocates is that it helps locals financially and provides a local perspective and experience for visitors. 

This argument fails when you consider that approximately 15 per cent of the total of residential houses in the Shire are being let out as entire houses on Airbnb. This is against the residential zoning, which is defined to protect residential amenity and encourage a sense of community and neighbourhood.

There are about 450 properties that advertise a room or two for letting and this does allow for the ‘spirit’ of the share economy. But the letting out of entire houses on a permanent basis delivers significant issues.

Currently approximately 2,000 houses are not available for permanent residents, either for home ownership or rental, and that equates to approximately 5,000 people who are not able to access housing in Byron Shire. The use of entire houses is like mini-motels in residential areas; they are tourism establishments, prohibited under the planning laws and are a commercial use of a residential dwelling.

Shifting costs

Council collects funds to offset the costs of providing services for community and business. Residential rates are lower than commercial as residents are recognised as a great source of value to a community, whereas tourists are a source of value to a business but usually a cost to Council in terms of wear and tear on public facilities, roads, parks, and they generate waste, which is Council’s responsibility and cost.

No wonder Airbnb try to hard to defend their right to operate; it’s a lucrative business with no costs or return of fees to the council.

In contrast to this, bed and breakfasts, who also provide rooms to visitors, are required to submit a development application and neighbours have the right to make submissions. They also pay significant development contribution fees and pay increased council rates for the operation of the commercial use.

Unaffordable housing

The impacts of the unauthorised use of residential dwellings for tourism purposes includes that homes are sometimes vacant, diminishing the sense of neighbourhood. There’s also the reduced availability of stock for sale and or rental, increasing the lack of housing availability. The use has also increased the value of properties as the purchase of a home used for a business increases the value of properties and impacts on housing affordability.

Short-term letting is a commercial activity without any of the real costs of operating a business. It’s an attractive investment with some owners also taking advantage of negative gearing and capital gains tax, which were introduced to incentivise property investment to increase rental stock not tourism. The outcome and impacts are far from the intent.

The Australian Tax Office is reviewing and auditing the activity and whether those who use tax incentives are compliant with tax laws. 

The reality is that the permanent use of entire residential dwellings for Airbnb comes at a great cost to residents and to Council. Byron Shire Council has now returned to the position that existed in 2010  ‘to prosecute the owners of unauthorised short-term residential accommodation’. The community should support Council and advise of any impact they encounter to ensure the return of vibrant local community and neighbourhoods.


11 responses to “Saving community – the argument against Airbnb”

  1. Philippa Byers says:

    This is an excellent article on the unfair impost of commercial holiday letting within local non-commercial, residential areas of Byron. The fact that Byron is a tourist destination should not mean the community is increasingly shaped by the commercial interests of property investors. This commercial activity has nothing to do with ‘sharing’ and the local community should be able to resist it. Accordingly, I agree with the article’s suggestion that Council should be supported in its attempt to regulate commercial holiday letting by identifying and fining property owners who blatantly ignore its planning provisions. P.Byers

  2. Ann Knight says:

    You nailed it – thank you. Not only affecting Byron, but all the “desirable” locations along the coast and inner Sydney and other major cities. Flagrant breaching of the societal compact which everyone else abides by, to have communities, and homes for workers who need and want to live conveniently to where they work and send their kids to school, or age into retirement in the community they love. You don’t like the rules? Then work democratically to change them. These Airbnb smartypants need to feel the weight of the law, and comply with it, or get out of business.

  3. Len Heggarty says:

    Jan,
    My view is the unauthorised use of residential dwellings for tourism is only contentious in Byron Shire because the view of the future in the bigger picture is not viewed. It is cut and dried but no one wants to see how things will be cut up and out.
    Back in the 1960s and the 70s, Coolangatta in Queensland had five or six guest houses and they had the money to advertise nationally. People poured in in their thousands as it was hot in summer everywhere else but it was “Cool” in ‘gatta. The guest houses filled up and the tourists kept coming in and the surrounding houses were let out in share houses all around Coolangatta and Tweed Heads. It was the time of the “small’ landlord and it because so successful books were written about it and the Marine Parade strip was full, and so were the people as the pubs were full as this was the burgeoning middle class on holiday and they were drinking. It was just like Byron is today with pubs everywhere with the beer flowing and the dance on the beach was the “Hoki-Poki”. It was “fun, fun, fun” as the beer flowed as everyone was singing and the money was sprayed and spent around town. It was the time of the small time money-spinner as we all know the big fish are around the corner and the big fish eat the small fish when anything is successful in making money. “Beach House” was the biggest guest house and they did not have enough room for all the tourists. Many were on holiday in part of a house paying rent
    Time went by into the 1970s and the selling and buying began as the more successful the area became and the real estate prices rose. Houses were sold and houses were put together into lots and sold as lots to become high-rise buildings as more money is made that way. Now today look at Beach House as it is about 20 storeys high or more and so the town of Coolangatta became a high-rise apartment tourist town. Pubs closed, no more low-class pubs, and upper-class clubs opened as you make more money from the upper-class tourist than the fun-depleted middle class. The fun went out of Coolangatta and it because a staunch and austere and serious money town of apartment renters and real estate agents
    That is the future of Byron if Airbnb becomes successful.

  4. Steve Hoare says:

    Owners of residential property normally have the legal right to be self-residents or to enter into residential tenancy leases. NSW residential tenancy law does not presently prescribe a minimum period for leases. Tenancy law needs to be amended to achieve Jan’s objective.

    If the Shire just crashes ahead with its own legal approach to imposing minimum time limits, it will just buy into a world of hurt. Property owners will appeal to the Land and Environment Court and win and have costs awarded in their favour.

    I have no beef with Jan’s cause, but the cause needs to be informed by the rule of law.

  5. Philippa Byers says:

    Steve Hoare makes a good point about minimum NSW residential tenancy leases. However, the Council’s planning provisions are clear; under three months is short term or holiday letting, not residential letting. Although Council could end up in the L&E Court, as he suggests, real estate agents and individual operators do not offer contracts to short term paying guests that could easily be construed as residential leases, nor do they offer their guests the legal entitlements that accompany residential letting agreements. P.Byers

  6. Daniel Flesch says:

    The original idea of Airbnb has been corrupted. It was intended to be a way people could rent out a spare room while the owners stayed in the house. The problems arise when whole houses are rented out and the owner(s) are absent. Same problem easily solved : make it compulsory for owner (s) to be living at the premises when renters are there. Will prevent any noise , overcrowding etc. possibility. Back to the future with Airbnb’s original model.

  7. Lorna Virgo says:

    Thank you Len for your interesting reply about Coolangatta. I remember Byron Bay before the Whaling Station was started,so we must go back many decades.
    I now live at Coolangatta & what a wonderful place it is to live at.
    Yes the many holiday boarding houses have gone but in their sites are high rise modern apartment building that give pleaseure to thousands of holidays visitors. I live in a modern Apartment of 12 Units. One short term letting, two long term letts & 9 Owner occupied. We are across all ages. There is no problems with Tennants.
    Here we have good roads, plentiful Parks with wide broad walks along the Sea fronts, that are well unitlized by the locals & Visitors alike. We have three shopping Centres with in a radius of 7 kms of each other. The M1 is too the West of both Tweed Heads & Coolangatta. It is easy to access differant venues with the roads available. We have no paid parking yet despite Burleigh Heads & all North has. During the recent Commonwealth Games the Beach Volley Balls were held within a kilometer of our Apartment. What an exciting time that was?
    The Airport is 2 kms away. How convenient?.
    So what is not to like about Coolangatta? The vibrant Southern end of the Gold Coast?

  8. Jen says:

    Thankyou Jan
    Air Bnb is well known to be highly destructive world wide for the reasons described here. Venture Capitalists and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs using so called innovation and ‘disruption’ (yes, that’s a thing they worship) for their own greed and to hell with the cities and rental markets destroyed as a result. There is a lot of information about people opposing Air Bnb and many city councils are stepping in to try and protect residents before its too late. It already is too late, in some places. One should reserve the same special feelings for Air Bnb and Uber (similar story) one holds for Metgasco, Monsanto and McDonalds. Have a peruse of articles about AirBnB at nakedcapitalism.com

  9. Shelley Oldham says:

    I am a resident and I abhor political grandstanding such as that generated by Mayor Richardson. The data being used in this debate is factually incorrect. It beggars belief that so much political mileage is being created on erroneous facts. Airbnb has created far less damage to our community than a council that does nothing, yes that is correct, nothing to build community.

    • Harold says:

      I completely disagree with every one of the statements that you have made, Shelley. The data that Mayor Simon Richardson has given is completely accurate. It comes from Inside Airbnb which is run by computer program whiz, analyser and New York based Murray Cox. He has provided accurate figures world wide for areas where Airbnb has spread its cancerous grip.

      I have lived beside a poorly managed. unregulated short term holiday let for the past 6 years. My family’s residential amenity has been severely damaged. We are not alone with thousands of other families having their residential amenity damaged.STHL’s are an illegal and prohibited activity in residential zones in Byron Shire. Those owners, real estate agents, managers and others involved in STHL are aiding and abetting an illegal activity. That is the reason why it has become politicised..

      I have not met one local permanent resident that has a kind word to say about STHL. Nobody wants to live beside one! Airbnb, Stayz (Homeway) and the hundreds of other online disruptors do not build communities. They destroy them.

  10. Avarice and greed destroy everything and this is more apparent in Byron Shire than anywhere else. The existence of a $400 a week single dwelling or a $20 hamburger prove this

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