Fireworks as strata owners launch fighting fund to keep short-stay rentals out
Jimmy Thomson
31 December 2016

As Sydney readies for its biggest balcony-busting night of the holiday rental year, a group of high-powered apartment owners has launched a fighting fund to keep short-stay lets out of residential apartment buildings.

The group claims most owners don’t want short-stay lets in their buildings.

The view from an Airbnb property at Millers Point with a rental price of $3200 for two nights. Photo: Airbnb

It has raised $60,000 in donations and is now preparing for a bitter fight for the right to stay “residential-only”.

Airbnb hosts are able to charge more than $1,500 a night over the New Year’s Eve weekend, and are reluctant to give up this income.

“We’re not anti-Airbnb or anyone else,” said retired music teacher Dr Michael Heaney, chairman of the owners corporation at the Maestri Towers in Kent St and a member of the board of the Owners Corporation Network, the peak organisation for apartment owners.

The view from an apartment at Darling Harbour rented for $824 a night on Airbnb. Photo: Airbnb

“We are pro-choice and pro-democracy. If unit blocks want to have short-stay lets, that’s their choice. But the vast majority of owners should also have the right to keep their homes as residential only, the basis on which they were bought.”

Owners corporations in NSW can’t ban short-stay lets, such as those offered by online agencies like Airbnb and Stayz. But they can, with a 75 per cent vote, pass by-laws supporting residential-only zoning. This means residential lets must be for a minimum of 30 days, far longer than the usual short-term rentals offered online.

Earlier this year a parliamentary inquiry recommended that short-stay lets should be exempt from zoning restrictions. Critics say that would open the door to unlimited holiday letting in the city’s best-located, best-managed and therefore most attractive apartment blocks.

Representatives from about 60 Sydney city apartment blocks met before Christmas to pledge financial support to fight the proposal. 

Within a week, the group had raised more than $60,000, double the initial target of $30,000. The organisers hope to raise $300,000, a sum they say they’ll need to match the deep pockets of organisations such as Airbnb.

Asked about the creation of the fighting fund, a spokesman for Airbnb said it had participated in an 18-month parliamentary inquiry process and questioned if any of the participants in the recent meeting had done so.

Dr Heaney claims he presented a “detailed report” to the inquiry “showing, in hard facts and figures, how much holiday lets cost owners in additional wear and tear and management costs”.

This saved Maestri Towers several million dollars and lowered levies substantially after driving short-stay lets out of the building, he said.

Parliament is expected to respond to the inquiry findings with proposed legislation in April.

Innovation and Better Regulation Minister Victor Dominello, the driving force behind new strata laws in NSW, wasn’t on the committee but is known to be a keen advocate for cutting red tape and backing the “sharing economy”.

“Minister Dominello entered a meeting with me, carrying the parliamentary report as if it was tablets of stone and he was Moses coming down from the mountain,” leading strata lawyer and recent OCN chairman Stephen Goddard told Fairfax Media.

“I told him the report wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. It completely ignores the realities of strata living and the very real fears of apartment owners and tenants.”

Mr Dominello disagreed, saying there were no perfect solutions, but the parliamentary inquiry was “a good start”.

“This is a phenomenon that governments around the world have had to grapple with,” he said.  “The emergence of peer-to-peer platforms, allowing short-term letting of residential premises has fundamentally changed the accommodation market.

“More and more consumers are choosing to engage with new technologies including Airbnb. This issue has generated a range of competing interests and our job is to navigate an outcome from those interests.”

The Airbnb spokesman applauded the government’s efforts to update the holiday letting laws, saying Airbnb rents helped families pay for their own holidays and “the mortgage, electricity bills and other daily expenses”.

He said that “home sharing laws in NSW were written long before the internet even existed and the government did the right thing leading the charge to update and renew them”.

“Airbnb supports the right for people to share their home, without the need for wading through red tape or over-the-top permissions.”

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