Byron Shire Council is seeking an exemption from the state government’s new short-term holiday-letting laws in a last ditch bid to preserve its policy of restricting short-term letting in residential areas.
However, short-term holiday letting advocates are pushing for even less regulation of the industry, and some are openly discussing strategies to avoid the 180-day cap the government is proposing.
On June 4, the NSW government announced a series of long awaited proposed changes to short-term letting rules that will have significant implications for property owners and renters across the region.
Most notably, the new laws explicitly state that short-term holiday letting is allowed in residential areas.
This significantly undermines Byron Council’s policy of cracking down on this practice on the basis that it is an ‘unauthorised use’ that takes much-needed housing stock out of the rental market.
The new laws pave the way for an increase in short-term holiday letting in the shire by giving homeowners and investors a green light to let out their homes and granny flats without fear of prosecution by the council.
Under the new laws, Council may have the power to prevent property owners from letting out their houses or flats for more than 180 days per year if they don’t live there; however, it’s unclear how it will preserve community amenity and stem the holiday-letting tide.
Greens councillor Michael Lyon told The Echo Council was not going down without a fight.
He said it would apply for a special exemption from the laws, which would allow Council to implement its own policy.
‘There’s a small window of opportunity to seek an exemption from the new policy from the minister for planning,’ Cr Lyon said.
‘Council staff are seeking to make contact with the minister to get an urgent meeting about it.
‘The negative impact of this policy on housing supply and rents is unquestionable.’
The shire’s registered accommodation providers – those with specific approval to run tourist-accommodation businesses – are also hitting back.
They have taken to social media urging those who are unhappy with the ‘absurdly destructive holiday-letting changes’ to lobby for change by emailing the NSW premier and the minister responsible, Matt Kean.
Closed door meetings
However, most concede privately that the chances of convincing the government to either amend its policy or grant Byron an exemption are slim.
This is particularly the case given that the new laws were the outcome of delicate, closed-door negotiations involving Minister Kean, local MPs from Sydney’s eastern suburbs and – it appears – representatives from the holiday-letting industry.
According to the publicly available ministerial diary disclosures of both Kean and planning minister Anthony Roberts, both men met with representatives from short-term-letting platforms Airbnb and Stayz in the months leading up to the policy announcement.
When asked whether he or his government had been unduly influenced by the short-term-letting industry in developing the new laws, Mr Kean declined to comment directly, saying only: ‘We have consulted widely with key stakeholders, and the broader community on these reforms’.
One industry insider said that Council’s attempt to get special treatment was ‘just wasting everybody’s time’ as there was ‘no way the state government will exempt them from the laws’.
However, Council may have more success in imposing a 180-day cap on short-term holiday letting in the Shire.
Under the proposed rules, regional councils can implement this cap in cases where the letting host (usually the property owner or an agent acting on their behalf) does not live there.
By contrast, hosts who live on the property in question can let to their heart’s content unless there is a specific clause in their development consent forbidding the practice.
Cr Lyon said Council would be seeking to implement the 180-day cap.
But the prospect has drawn strong opposition from some holiday-letting hosts in the shire.
President of the Holiday Letters Organisation (HLO) John Gudgeon said introducing a 180-day cap would have a ‘significant negative impact on the economy’.
‘A lot of people with property in the shire let their homes more than 180 days a year,’ he said,
‘People are really worried about the impact… I think it’s quite political.
‘While we welcome the planning certainty that the new laws provide by explicitly providing for short-term letting as an exempt development in residential zones, we would like to see the 180-day cap option amended before the bill becomes law.’
Code of conduct
Another aspect of the new laws that has some hosts concerned is the proposed code of conduct that seeks to limit the impact of short-term holiday letting on neighbours.
While the detail of the code is yet to be released, the government says that if guests staying at a holiday let commit two serious breaches within two years, the host will be banned from letting for five years.
The Echo has learned that a ‘serious breach’ will be defined as ‘any conduct that unreasonably interferes with a neighbour’s quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their home’.
Mr Gudgeon said this aspect of the new laws was unfair on hosts and was ‘open to abuse’.
‘We support the concept of the code and the need to limit the impact on neighbours, but not the detail in its current form.
‘It needs to be worked out in a way that is fair and equitable for everybody,’ he said.
By contrast, Cr Lyon said the code was ‘the only thing the government has done right’.
‘We’ve been asking for something like this for the past two years, but every time we sought to introduce it into our local environment plan (LEP) it was struck out,’ he said.
‘That they have now included it is scant consolation for what is otherwise a disastrous policy response.’