But still no plans for Byron Shire
Hans Lovejoy, Mia Armitage with Fernando de Freitas
New state rules on short-term holiday lets (STHL) for NSW, announced late last week, won’t be introduced to the Byron Shire until as late as February next year, as the local housing crisis intensifies.
Byron Shire Council asked the government for a 90-day per year cap in an attempt to retain the rapidly diminishing rental stock, which has seen many locals forced out of their homes.
According to Friday’s press release from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE), the STHL policy will come into force on July 30 and requires ‘Minimum fire safety standards’, and comes with a previously announced code of conduct for hosts, guests, online booking platforms and agents.
On Friday, NSW Planning Minister, Rob Stokes, also announced extra time for Council to propose where, exactly, it would like a 90-day annual cap on holiday rental properties to apply.
Council have until January 31, 2022 to submit a proposal, Mr Stokes said, after Byron’s temporary exemption from a state-wide 180-day annual cap was first announced in February 2019.
Council staff notes sent to councillors over the weekend said the proposal process was ‘complicated’, Greens Byron Shire Councillor Sarah Ndiaye told Bay FM’s Community Newsroom on Monday.
The notes reportedly said staff found out in December last year that Council must submit a detailed economic impact assessment to the DPIE of the effect the cap could have on hosts and operators.
DPIE asks for economic impacts for Byron letting industry, not community
While the notes didn’t refer to economic impacts on people seeking long-term rentals in the Shire, Cr Ndiaye said she expected staff would include recent reports of the effects the Shire’s housing shortage was having on the ability of businesses to find workers.
Meanwhile, Nationals Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) Ben Franklin, still based on the far north coast after failing to win the Ballina electorate in the 2019 state election, said the new deadline for the Byron Shire Council was a ‘terrific outcome’ as it gave staff time to ‘get all of the information, the background documents and all the arguments able to be done’.
He told The Echo, ‘I will be doing all I can to achieve [securing the 90-day cap per year]. If there is no resolution by this time, non-hosted STRA in Byron Shire LGA will be limited to 180 days’.
Mr Franklin did not reply to the question regarding the new policy; The Echo asked, ‘It appears there is no set limit to the number of persons per bedroom, and hence the number per holiday let allowed. ‘Doesn’t this conflict with the government view in the 2019 public exhibition that there should be two people of any age, per bedroom, up to a maximum of six bedrooms allowed? Won’t the result be excess overcrowding?’
Meanwhile, the elected MP for Byron and Ballina Shires, Tamara Smith MP (Greens) told The Echo, ‘While we wait for the outcome for Byron’s 90-day limit, this is part of a bigger picture where genuine affordable housing for the region needs to be addressed’.
‘Unfortunately, even with a 90-day limit, those wealthy enough will leave their Byron properties empty for most of the time, and rent them out for the big festival events and holidays.
Policy reform needed
‘Genuine affordable housing includes reforming state planning policies like the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) that provides developers massive concessions. The SEPPs don’t provide any tangible affordability and were written for city developments’.
As for pursuing legal action over breaching regulation around holiday letting, Cr Ndiaye said the costs were too high to end in successful prosecution.
Cr Ndiaye said the onus on staff of gathering evidence was too time-consuming and therefore expensive, despite their ability to initially find local short-term holiday providers via their online host platforms.
The proposal for a 90-day annual cap in parts of the Byron Shire was aimed, instead, at deterring property owners from excluding dwellings from the long-term rental market.
Yet the region’s rising popularity beyond traditional peak holiday and pre-pandemic festival seasons suggest holiday property owners could, for example, rent dwellings out almost every weekend in a year for a bigger return than a long-term lease would typically attract under a 90-day cap.
Recent figures quoted by Mr Franklin showed more than half of Byron Bay’s rental properties were used for short-term holiday lets.
‘There’s no question that governments of all persuasions haven’t really provided enough social housing,’ Nationals MLC Ben Franklin told Bay FM’s Above the Fray host, Fernando de Freitas, after the government’s STHL announcement last week, ‘Absolutely no question at all’.
The NSW coalition government marked ten years in power at the end of March, and Mr Franklin has held his position in the upper house since 2015.
For more information visit www.planning.nsw.gov.au/STRA.