Dirty tricks and dodgy laws as unit blocks declare war on holiday lettings
The Sydney Morning Herald
Jimmy Thomson
06 January 2017

Bogus by-laws, sneaky shut-outs and even vandalism could be used to keep holiday lets out of apartment blocks that don't want them, say Sydney's building managers.

And should the NSW government change the law and force apartment blocks to accept short-stay rentals, such as those booked via online agencies like Airbnb and Stayz, strata schemes will find ways of blocking them.

In fact, they are already doing it.

"Any apartment block that really doesn't want holiday lets can stop them, regardless of what the law says," said the on-site facilities manager of a city centre building, who asked not to be named.

Under current strata laws, owners corporations can legally ban short-stay lets if their buildings are zoned residential only. But the government is considering making holiday lets exempt from zoning restrictions, and that would include apartments as well as stand-alone houses.

However, dozens, possibly hundreds of unit blocks have already come up with other ways of blocking holiday lets, including locking holidaymakers out of the very facilities that make their buildings attractive to tourists and weekend guests.

only permanent residents could use the common property facilities

"Our owners passed a by-law that says only permanent residents could use the common property facilities," says the manager of a multi-storey block on the North Shore, zoned mixed use.

"We then cancelled the electronic key access to the swimming pool, gym and car park for everyone except resident owners and long-term tenants."

The hosts soon got sick of people complaining that they weren't getting what they paid for, he said, adding that the building's other residents and on-site staff happily provided angry tourists with the host's phone number and email address.

The North Shore manager admits the by-law blocking access to common property facilities was "probably invalid" but attempts to challenge it failed.

"Whenever the case got close to the Tribunal, we delayed and deferred and generally dragged our heels. Eventually the owner gave up, sold out and took his business elsewhere."

The temptation for apartment landlords to convert to holiday rentals is huge. But life can get very uncomfortable for them and, especially, their guests, if they are not welcome.

cancel electronic access keys

One tactic is to cancel electronic access keys "for security reasons" whenever holiday guests move out. They are only reactivated when the unit owner shows up to sign obligatory "change of lease" forms.

cut off access to the lifts

"I've heard of one building where they even cut off access to the lifts to non-residents on dubious security grounds," said a strata manager based in the lower north shore who also declined to be named.

"Can you imagine a family getting off a plane and being told they have to take 10 or 15 flights of stairs. Welcome to Sydney."

The report by last year's parliamentary inquiry into holiday letting legislation included suggestions that apartment owners could be given additional legal avenues to pursue bad short-stay tenants and their hosts.

But critics say that puts all the burden of proof and costs on to the owners corporation while the holiday letting hosts are making extra money from letting shared facilities.

"The strata committees, who are untrained volunteers, would need to police it, take photos, note dates, keep financial records, issue warnings and start actions in NCAT," says Catherine Lezer, a director of strata management umbrella body Strata Communities Australia NSW.

"This is unreasonable to expect of volunteers with no training.

forcing neighbours to spy on neighbours

"A sense of community is one of the joys of strata living; some buildings do this well, some do not. But by forcing neighbours to spy on neighbours the state government is creating the environment for a breakdown of the sense 'community' within strata blocks."

One former Eastern Suburbs strata chairwoman told us that chasing absentee owners and long-gone tenants through the Tribunal process could be time-consuming, frustrating, costly and had no guarantee of success.

tempted to resort to criminal damage

As a result, neighbours could even be tempted to resort to criminal damage.

"When it comes to stopping holiday lets, superglue in a lock works faster and more effectively than any laws or by-laws," she warned. "It's going to be guerrilla warfare in some buildings."

Full text
This is the full text of a story edited for inclusion in the Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax online including these two paragraphs:

One senior manager of a firm of on-site managers of several large buildings around Sydney told Fairfax Media that having spent years chasing bad owners around various tribunals, the shoe was now on the other foot.

“We’ve become experts in finding loopholes and dodging orders because badly behaved residents have been doing it to us for years."
http://www.flat-chat.com.au/4632-2/


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