Controversy is heating up over the state’s new short-term holiday letting laws with a bill that would effectively entrench the practice being successfully passed through the lower house in June. It is due to be voted on in the upper house on August 14.
Angered by the proposed laws, a large group of Byron Shire’s approved accommodation operators are set to meet Ballina MP Tamara Smith (Greens) this Thursday to discuss stopping them in their tracks.
The group is even considering taking a class action against the government.
365-day holiday lets
The Fair Trading Amendment (Short-term rental accommodation) Bill 2018 will allow hosts in rural and regional NSW to holiday-let their properties every day of the year without needing to submit a development application (DA) to their local council.
Victoria McEwen, spokesperson for the Byron Hinterland Collective, said the playing field was already tilted against the many approved accommodation operators in Byron Shire who had either bought an established property or gone through an exhaustive DA process, ‘when an AirBnB host is not going to any of this trouble or expense’.
She added the bill would’ allow anyone to run a pop-up hotel with no prior due diligence’.
‘The problems we have already suffered across the community with unaffordable housing, minimal rental stock, social hollowing and party houses will simply spiral out of control,’ Ms McEwen said.
‘We had 2,000 Airbnb hosts in Byron Shire last year and this year we’re up to almost 3,000. There are only 15,000 dwellings in the shire, so that’s 20 per cent of our homes already being used for Airbnb. And that’s not including other short-term holiday letting websites such as Luxico, Stayz, HomeAway, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor. The degradation in the community will only get worse if this new bill is passed.’
‘If the state government passes this bill, they are essentially deregulating an already regulated industry. And there is a groundswell of anger brewing amongst approved operators who have done the right thing by the law. All we want is the same rules and the same costs for everyone.’ said Mrs McEwen, who is an owner of guesthouses in Byron Bay.
Class action considered
She also fired a warning shot, indicating that the government could potentially see a class action brought by approved accommodation providers if it went ahead with the new bill.
‘Unregulated operators such as Airbnb hosts [need] to be lodging a DA and paying the same costs as we are, not being given the green light to pay nothing for council compliance or set-up costs,’ she said.
Ms McEwen flagged that without proper regulations and permits in place, holiday-makers using short-term holiday lets could be at risk.
‘If this bill is passed, an Airbnb host will be able to get away with not having any fire safety in place, no food safety checks, no requirements for disability access and no car parking requirements. We already pay significantly higher commercial rates and developer contributions for the upkeep of our roads, why is the state government allowing this problem to get worse?’
‘We will end up with the same mess that happened with the taxi industry when taxi plates had to be bought back because of Uber.
‘What we need is a system that is robust and protects the interests of our community,’ she said.
In the event the bill is passed, the group is calling on the upper house to back a Greens amendment that would give local councils the ability to manage short-term holiday letting within their own LEPs.
‘Every council is different and Byron Shire is a unique destination that needs its own management that is specific to the needs of the Byron community.’
The group also called into question the ethics of MPs who have holiday-let homes and apartments themselves voting on the bill.
‘In any other voting system this would be considered a conflict of interest. We call on Members of Parliament who have such a conflict of interest to declare their conflict and abstain from voting on this bill,’ Ms McEwen said.
‘We are asking all approved accommodation Operators in Byron Bay, Tweed Heads, Ballina, Lismore and from across the State to join our Facebook group. We need your voice,’ Ms McEwen said.
The meeting will take place at 1:30pm at the Cavanbah Centre, Ewingsdale Rd, Thursday 26 July 2018,