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Byron Shire
December 9, 2021

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: SAVE BYRON

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Next time you blow a tyre on a pothole in our Shire, don’t curse Council, curse your neighbours who live in Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane and rent their house out on Airbnb or Booking.com. It’s their greed that put it there.

Soon you can also curse the state government because with new legislation approving 365-day-a-year short-term unregulated rentals, it’s going to get a WHOLE lot worse.

Illegal holiday letting is a cancer that is destroying Byron – our amenity, our community, and our spirit. It’s terminal unless we take action and ask the state government to recognise us as a unique destination and allow OUR Council to set realistic limits on holiday rentals.

It’s hard to get exact numbers on how much unregulated letting happens in our region, but there are 2,912 houses on Airbnb. If you add at least 1,000 for listings on other websites such as booking.com you come up with a very conservative number of 4,000. Regulated ‘approved’ accommodation, including hotels, guesthouses, and backpackers’ number around 400.

To become an approved accommodation provider there is a one-off Section 94 developer contribution to Council averaging about $100K. That means 4,000 investors in our Shire have not passed GO and paid the for the impost of their business. So that’s $400 million alone that our Shire DIDN’T receive to invest in life saving and rural fire services and the maintenance of amenities like roads, parks, and public toilets. The stuff that gets degraded by overuse by the 2.2 million visitors each year who clearly are not all staying in the 400 approved commercial accommodation facilities. It makes the idea of a bed tax ludicrous.

Only the 400 approved accommodation providers would charge it. They’re already under the pump with operational costs not faced by the thousands of holiday-let profiteers. The 400 approved accommodation providers pay around $10k a year in commercial rates as opposed to the $4k in residential rates paid by illegal unregulated short-term lets. My calculator tells me that’s another $24 million of annual income missing from our council coffers. In 10 years that’s $240 million. We could be replacing our stainless-steel public toilets with solid gold.

You don’t have to be an accountant to realise 15,000 ratepayers alone cannot subsidise and maintain one of Australia’s biggest tourism destinations. A destination that returns investors a startling 10 per cent annually at just 70 per cent occupancy of their illegal unregulated let. It’s why we’re being touted nationally as an incredible investment with out-of-town buyers purchasing our properties sight unseen.

It’s only a matter of time before one of these holiday lets burns to the ground – you just can’t have continuous commercial use of a domestic property without calamity. That’s what regulation and compliance are for: to create safety.

Council-compliant accommodation has to pay for car parking spaces, food safety checks, and have at least one room with disabled access. They have stringent regulations around fire safety that must be adhered to and must have an onsite manager contactable 24 hours a day.

Many of the illegal lets in our region are operated by absentee owners who don’t even live here. If there’s a noise complaint the police have to be called. Once again they’re maximising profits by drawing down on the public purse. They’re also drawing down on our access to affordable and available accommodation.

Newton’s Third Law states, ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’. The end result of this profiteering is homelessness. In order for there to be massive returns at the top of the market there have to be some pretty bleak outcomes at the bottom.

There are some streets in Byron where there is just one permanent resident. There’s no more popping next door for a cup of sugar, or asking your neighbour to feed your cat while you’re away. There are no neighbours, just streams of holiday makers eroding the foundation of a place once famed for its ‘connected community’. Instead it’s just an angry bloke who hasn’t slept for two years in a street littered with overflowing bins and cars with QLD number plates.

And let me ask one very pertinent question: If you are one of the many low-income earners vital to our emergency services and the service industry that supports the tourism in our region, where the hell do you live? And if you manage to beat the 100 competitors and secure a lease, how do you afford it? Well, I guess out of need you put one of your rooms up for rent on Airbnb. It’s a vicious cycle. Many now depend on the illegal short term renting to subsidise their financial stress, caused ironically, by illegal short-term renting.

The rental return has inflated the property market so that when it comes to buying a property, regular 3–4-bedroom residential housing is no longer affordable for anyone except speculators and investors. Certainly not regular families. New developments like West Byron are sold on the fact they will relieve housing stress. Really? Wake up. It ISN’T going to be full of families and single people who have been waiting for land release to build their dream home. It’s going to be a holiday-rent investment junket.

It’s time our Council did a detailed accommodation audit – listing ALL holiday rentals – both regulated and unregulated, along with available rental and residential properties. It’s the lack of monitoring that has allowed the situation to get out of hand. After shutting Sydney’s short-term rental market down to 180 days per year, if the state government allows 365-day short-term rental, you know where all the investors are going to come? Here. Byron’s like the barrier reef, and we’re about to experience some serious social bleaching.

This is not about being anti-tourism. Setting limits on holiday letting is about bringing an end to opportunistic profiteering that is the cancer destroying our community. It’s about restoring equity to a market where there currently is none; it’s about providing a sense of belonging for our children, affordable and secure housing for our residents, and safeguarding the experience of excellence in our destination for the tourists who come here. It’s about asking the state government to give our council the power to make the decisions for the future of this very special place we call home that we want to welcome others to share.

If you love Byron then stop driving it into the ground. Sign the petition. Come to the meeting. Save Byron.

Please attend the public meeting at the Cavanbah Centre on Wednesday 26 September at 7pm.

And sign the public petition on GetUp, asking the state government to give power to OUR council and our community to set the limits on holiday letting in our region.

www.communityrun.org/petitions/save-byron-1


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9 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Mandy for this – I’m looking forward to attending the community meeting on Wednesday 26th of September at the Cavanbah Recreation centre at 7pm

    The short term holiday letting tsunami created by AirBnB is a corrupted version of the original concept anyhow. It was initially for people who lived in the house or apartment and wanted to use their spare bedrooms to ‘host’ paying houseguests looking for a different experience, connecting with a real local, and getting the most out of their trip.

    Now it’s all about empty houses and apartments being let out with no onsite supervision, no need for fire alarm and safety compliance, and no additional contributions to the Bay, via Council rates or licenses, to make up for the impact of the additional people and veheciles on Byron’s infrastructure. Anecdotally, often those doing it are doing so with their fingers crossed that they might somehow avoid the ATO’s attention on the extra income.

    Bona fide commercial holiday letting pays taxes and rates, complies to fire, electrical and pool safety requirements, undertakes commercial waste management (no overflowing bins here! Just sorted Green, Yellow and Reds) and most importantly, supervises their guests via onsite management to manage sound and behavioural issues should they arise.

    Onsite managers are licensed through NSW Fair Trading (or their Qld equivilent), have their accounts audited for compliance each year and undertake ongoing professional development that includes updates on all legislative and compliance changes and requirements that also include guest safety.

    ‘Home’ owners who DIY holiday letting tick very few if any of those boxes. And don’t get started on the number of staff we have who find it almost impossible to live near their work or, if they find a place, are told they’re homeless from Spring to Autumn as the holiday makers move in. And out. And in. And out . . .

    How the new lgislation expects to actually monitor the number of days a property is let and any breaches including the working of the reporting mechanisim itself as well as the investigation of the breaches and the enforcement process for any penalties hasn’t yet been explained because it can’t be explained. What govt department is going to put its hand up for more work in a denser-than-opaque area, with no real chance of success tying up many, many staff hours?

    If this type of short term holiday letting can’t be stopped, then a much, much lower cap on the number of holiday letting days for properties not commercially licensed or compliant that are located in key tourist destination areas such as Byron (where holidaymakers out number local ratepayers 147 to 1), may be a solution.

    Requiring all of them to register with Council is a given and should be mandatory regardless.

  2. Mandy Nolan’s excellent article has highlighted the destruction the explosion of Airbnb is having on our community. Communities are about sharing our lives being there for each other building long term friendships. Local families in Federal can no longer afford to stay in the community they grew up in. Absent landlords give nothing but profit from their Airbnb and in many cases impose outrageous party behaviour to locals. This is not sustainable and we need to stand up against this impost or life in Byron Shire will be for tourists and investors only.

  3. All the issues covered beautifully, Mandy. I gather from Council discussions also that, in addition, the plan is for the state government to take the registration fees while the Council gets the expense of monitoring the compliance. What a deal that is for Byron! I like the idea of a nude protest on the steps of Parliament House.

    I wonder though how much goes back to the years of the ‘couldn’t give a rat’s’ attitude that existed in the shire long before the problem got so extreme. I’m still waiting for a reply from Council to a letter I sent outlining my concerns about what seemed the emergence of a backpackers establishment in my ‘quiet’ residential street. That was in 1998!

  4. Spot on Again Mandy! I became a statistic earlier this year when my landlord,gave me notice after 17 years of happy tenancy in Suffolk park. At least he wasn’t getting with the collective impulse and turning my little place into a holiday,rental, but instead, making it available for his family. So, as a single, older woman on a pension, Imfound myself trying to find a suitable and affordable place to live in the Byron’s Shire. I spent three fruitless months looking at tiny dark converted garages at $300-500 a week. Mostly, there wasn’t much out there or they were temporary places as rampant holiday letting has sucked up all those great little granny flats that still used to be available, just only a few years ago. If I was going to have to pay around $400 or more in rent to live on owm( and No at 66 I don’t want to live in a share house! Or move to Lismore.) then I would essentially have nothing left to, live on. In the meantime, Airbnb’s appeared right next door, across,the road and we long term residents watched as one house after another was knocked down and and another big white wooden place was knocked up. So, I had to give up. Leaving Byron and my community has been a huge emotional wrench. So, for now I am living in Mexico, also in a town corrupted by Airbnb, but I can rent a simple, clean flat for around $4-500 a MONTH here. I’m happy here for now but I do miss Byron and hope to be able to return to live in the shire again one day. I will be at the rally in spirit! Hold the Line Byron! I didn’t want to leave you and still love you! When Airbnb first appeared I was captivated by the brilliance of its concept, now I see it as the devil, laying waste to the fabric of communities across the globe.

  5. Dear Mandy , the same old stuff , which I thought for once I would reply to

    – On your numbers if the renters are full 4000 by say 2 people staying spend $200 each on accommodation and living would be a loss in revenue to the town of $1.6 million in one day . Yes just one day ! Could the town afford this – there would be no one left to answer this question
    – If these were closed down we would need around 40 new motels in town . Where would they go and how would they ever get approval ?
    – Unregulated holiday letting – Everyone I know who does this has an excess room in the house ( where our children use to live ) which is rented , completely legal
    – Developer contribution $100,000 each – where did this come from ? Perhaps $25,000
    – Used for affordable housing – spare rooms in houses will never be on the full time market , many are used by the oldies of byron to supplement their income and kept available for family and friends
    – Our street is almost all permanent residents – not sure which street in byron you live in
    – More regulation – why ? aren’t we the nanny state already
    We need some solutions not more of the same from the usual Critical non solution based individuals and if any politician , labor , liberal or greens had the balls the problem could be solved , a couple of examples
    – Town entry tax – used in cities like Byron overseas and in national parks in australia eg Kosciuszko . 2.2 million people by $10 each $22 mill per year – potholes gone !!
    – Affordable Housing – there is plenty of government owned land in the area that could be used ( can I mention the rail corridor ? ) could be built by government / private enterprise with rent protection put in for tenants.

    and is all this stuff the noisy minority at work while the silent majority get on with living and keeping local businesses alive ?

    Jeff

    • Hey Jeff.
      I’m pleased everything is hunky-dory for you in your little part of Byron. It sounds idyllic.
      How are the roads near you? Good? Awesome.
      No noise from the partying neighbours? Wow… must come and stay at your place.
      Well you have a wonderful day and don’t go worrying yourself about anyone or any thing else.
      Love
      Byron Bay

    • Dear Jeff – a few points. Yes the extra visitors that these holiday lets accommodate do contribute to the local economy but this does not alter the fact that there are huge problems and inequities caused by unregulated holiday letting in Byron – all of which Mandy outlines and which are undeniable. Lucky you – you must live in the only street in Byron Bay WITHOUT a holiday let. Of an evening most of the streets in Suffolk Park (including mine) look like there is a huge party in the neighbourhood. There isn’t, it’s just all the extra cars from the holiday lets or the multiple permanent tenants trying to pay the inflated rent.

      You probably only know the holiday letters who rent out the odd room because so many of the investors who rent out whole residences live elsewhere. So much for accommodation revenue going to the local economy. They do pay some rates but not commercial rates.

      Government housing doesn’t solve the whole issue either and I’m a bit sceptical about the private investors who want to provide affordable housing – some on land with ocean views!

      We do need to face the reality that if we want to stop unregulated holiday letting (an almost impossible aim now the state government has thrown wide the stable door) we need more commercially zoned regulated stock. A perfect opportunity was for Council to lease the hospital site for this purpose and use the revenue to fund and house the community services envisaged in a more suitable, accessible location.

      Nanny states? Regulation? Seems to work a lot better than self regulation in most areas of my experience.

  6. Hey, Mandy. What a horror show! There’s no end in ways
    to make a buck. Yes – Newton’s Third Law is alive & in
    motion. It’s sick.

  7. It could also cut the cost of road maintenance if the State government were to allow trains to run regularly on our local railway line. If people could catch a train to Byron and back several times a day it would cut the traffic, pollution, carbon emissions and road maintenance costs. A recent NRMA audit stated that the Northern Rivers has a road maintenance backlog of $430 million. It would cost less to repair the railway line. The Byron railroad repair work only cost $600,000/km instead of $7 million/km estimated in the government’s report.

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