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.