Apartment owner powerless after discovering tenant was illegally renting home on Airbnb
By: Sue Williams Domain Reporter
15 January 2017
A Sydney apartment-owner who discovered her tenant was illegally
subletting the one-bedroom apartment out on Airbnb to four guests at a
time, and making triple the rent, has warned other investors that this
is a “cancer” that’s spreading fast throughout the city.
Angry at the extra wear and tear on her apartment and terrified that
someone might have an accident and she would be liable—especially since
the unit was advertised, wrongly, as having a “shared” rooftop—she says
this is something that has to be stopped.
“I was appalled,” says welfare lawyer Susan Morgan, who was staying
with family in London when she discovered what was happening back home
in Sydney. “I’d let my apartment out through an agent to someone
long-term who looked on paper as if they were extremely responsible.
The advertisement for Susan Morgan's apartment on Airbnb.
“But instead they were subletting it, making a huge profit at my
expense, breaking our building’s bylaws and even more importantly,
voiding my insurance.
“What would happen if there was an accident in the apartment? How about
if someone went up to the rooftop, which is full of air conditioning
units and equipment, and fell off the edge? Who would pay then?”
another victim of "ghost hosts"
Ms Morgan, 56, had become yet another victim of “phantom” Airbnb
leasers – now being dubbed “ghost hosts” – letting their rented units
for profits in breach of rental agreements and building bylaws.
Airbnb refused Ms Morgan’s entreaties to take down the listing
Even worse, it can be very difficult to spot, and then to stop. The
tenant ignored her emails and carried on regardless and Airbnb refused
Ms Morgan’s entreaties to take down the listing, saying it was a
private matter between her and her tenant; it had nothing to do with
While Airbnb asks hosts to tick a box saying they are allowed to let
the property, its policy does not include checking the permission, even
when it is challenged by an owner or owners’ corporation.
“Airbnb is not a party to any booking agreements between hosts and
guests … does not manage the availability of such listings, nor does it
rent, manage or control the accommodations of the properties that are
published by users on the platform,” the company wrote to Ms Morgan.
No accountability or responsibility, yet happy to take the money. Airbnb is a real cancer.
It was stalemate, and Ms Morgan was outraged. “I sent Airbnb proof of
my ownership of the apartment and asked them to freeze the rental funds
as they were obtained through misrepresentation and nothing happened,”
she says. “No accountability or responsibility, yet happy to take the
money. Airbnb is a real cancer.”
A spokesman for Airbnb Australia says: “We proactively encourage hosts
to think carefully about their responsibilities, and request they seek
relevant permissions from landlords, building management or government
authorities [where appropriate] before listing their home or extra
But lawyer Suzie Broome of Sydney practice Sachs Gerace Broome says
that Airbnb’s refusal to take responsibility for ghost hosts when
things go clearly wrong puts property owners “at huge risk”. “I could
imagine if there was some kind of problem and it came to light to
insurers that apartments were being used in such a way, without consent
and against zoning rules, then they could void insurances,” she says.
“It must be happening everywhere now, more than we know. It’s something
the legislature and legislators aren’t thinking about because they’re
looking at a booming economy, and not about the underlings paying the
Real estate agent Craig Donohue was asked by Ms Morgan to intervene and
eventually ended the tenant’s lease. “But this is a real problem and
landlords have to be really vigilant if they want to avoid this
happening to them,” he says.
“I’d recommend checking regularly on Airbnb to make sure their home
isn’t listed. The difficulty is you can’t search the site for
addresses, but you can look at the maps and make sure your property
Ms Broome advises investors to also become more involved with their
buildings, make friends with neighbours who can report any unusual
activity, and be prepared to work as sleuths themselves, even loitering
outside their rented units to check.
With Airbnb having such a strictly hands-off approach, some holiday let
hosts are also being reported as going to extraordinary lengths to get
around restrictions on short-stay letting to exploit demand in popular
“There are two buildings side by side on Kent St in the city,” a Sydney
building manager told Domain. “One of them allows short-stay letting,
the other has a bylaw banning them and actively monitors websites for
unlawful advertising of apartments for holiday lets.
“So the host, who owns units in both blocks, advertises his apartment
in the building where it’s OK but meets the guests outside and takes
them to the block where it’s banned.”
sometimes the short-stay hosts are too smart for their own good
However, sometimes the short-stay hosts are too smart for their own
good. One Chatswood reader, responding to a story about alternative
methods of keeping holiday lets out of apartment blocks says his
building has bylaws banning short-stay lets, but one owner, a lawyer,
decided to ignore them.
“Our building’s bylaws say no short-term including Airbnb and they have
maximum occupancy of two people per bedroom,” says Max who asked us not
to use his surname. “One owner of a two-bed apartment, a lawyer, has
defied it, putting in a queen bed and four bunk beds in his investment
cloned the building swipe for $50-$70, cut the key
“But now he has egg on his face as the initial overseas holiday let
tenants cloned the building swipe in Chinatown for $50-$70, cut the
key, and now have short-termers taking the chance to stay one or two
nights when its empty and the lawyer gets nothing. Of course he can’t
complain because he breached the strata bylaws anyway.”
But such unscrupulous ghost hosts are taking advantage of slack laws
and putting apartments and whole buildings at risk, says Ms Morgan.
What stops rogue agents going along with it
“I think anyone who rents out their apartment to a tenant is now in
danger of this kind of abuse. What stops rogue agents going along with
it, and taking a percentage of a listing?” she asks.
“And even if an owner agrees to allow a tenant to sublet on Airbnb, the
rest of the building may not but will still be open to huge insurance
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