Holiday letting legislation passes NSW parliament

Hans Lovejoy

As expected, a new law passed in NSW parliament last week that aims to regulate the holiday letting industry.

Yet it comes incomplete, with major elements such as proposed changes to the SEPP (state environment planning policy) and a code of conduct still to be finalised. 

The Fair Trading Amendment (Short-term Rental Accommodation) Bill 2018 was voted in by the coalition  and had bipartisan Labor support, along with minor parties except the Greens.

Those who have council approvals, for example  bed and breakfasts and motels, claim they have been ignored throughout the process. Part of the reforms would allow regional councils to limit letting to a minimum of 180 days.

Greens Ballina MP Tamara Smith said, ‘The Liberal/National government’s one-size-fits-all attempt at addressing short-term rental accommodation will not ease the pressure on Byron Bay and cities that are at risk of becoming overrun by de facto hotels,’ she said.

‘A boom in short-term, make-a-quick-buck rental accommodation is already changing the character of Byron Bay and making it harder to maintain and build community on the north coast.’ 

Powers to police

During parliamentary debate, local MLC Ben Franklin (Nationals) spruiked the law and told the chamber, ‘NSW Fair Trading will be given powers to police online platforms and letting agents.’

While there was no explanation of how that would work, there was also no explanation by Franklin as to how an exclusion register would work, whereby ‘hosts or guests who commit two serious breaches of the code within a two-year period will be banned for five years.’

Yet he did say those who have sought council approval for holiday letting had very valid and reasonable concerns.

‘What people don’t realise is that the commercial rates that we pay are $10,000 whereas the residential rates of the property next door on Airbnb and on other booking platforms are only $2,000–$4,000.’ ‘Approved operators are angry and once we start refusing to pay these commercial rates and other fees, all councils will suffer from a massive shortfall in revenue.’  – Geoff Wood, an approved accommodation operator

‘Operators who have done the right thing should not feel they are being punished for doing the right thing, particularly in a community like Byron Bay.’ Yet again, Franklin offered no comfort  other than a 12-month review, something that approved operators say will be ineffective after the damage is done.

The Echo asked minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Matt Kean (Liberal) what details are available on the code of conduct and whether its 30-strong committee is stacked with holiday letting representatives.

He replied, ‘The Short-term Rental Accommodation (STRA) code of conduct advisory committee has representatives from a range of organisations, not just holiday-letting industry representatives.’

‘The Advisory Committee includes STRA platforms, professional associations, industry associations, property owners’ associations, strata sector organisations, and also Local Government NSW and the Tenants’ Union of NSW.’ 

He said, ‘The development of the code has just begun, and the advisory committee process is only one element of the development of the code. There will also be consultation with key government agencies, and once a full draft of the code has been prepared there will be further community and industry consultation.’

Geoff Wood, an approved accommodation operator in Byron Shire, said, ‘We have a message for Mr Franklin – unfortunately 12 months will be too late – many or most approved operators will be extinct by then as they simply cannot compete on such a massively un-level playing field. And we also ask – what will this be a review of? Because nobody in the state government has ever consulted with the approved accommodation industry in the first place.’

Approved operators thrown under a bus

Wood continued, ‘We are outraged that our own state government has thrown approved operators under the bus. We have a DA which, overnight, is now not worth the paper it’s written on.

‘We are reaching out to all approved accommodation operators from across the state to join us via our Facebook page.’

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Some of The Echo’s editorial team: journalists Paul Bibby and Aslan Shand, editor Hans Lovejoy, photographer Jeff Dawson and Mandy Nolan

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