Byron Council finally has a plan it hopes will resolve the Holiday Letting problem. For those not familiar with the history of HL here is a quick synopsis. Byron Bay gets 1.3 million annual visitors and most of them need to stay somewhere (not including day trippers, campers and the homeless). Hotels, resorts and B&Bs take the majority, but the rest is a combination of two things. 1.Locals who short term rent their home during peak period, and 2. Investors who buy a property, furnish it, list it with a property management company and hope to get a better return than a permanent lease.
There is a strong local lobby opposed to Holiday Letting (Victims of Holiday Letting). They say it takes properties out of the rental pool, destroys the community and the culture of the town. Their main grievance, which is understandable, is having 20 drunken British backpackers next door running amok at all hours. That’s not nice. The traditional accommodation industry also has a case against the unregulated HL providers, since HL providers do not have the same overheads or start up costs, it is not a level playing field.
The degree of antagonism and annoyance to HL in our town galvanised enough short-term home renters and property management companies to join together and form the HLO – Holiday Let Organisation. They forced HL providers to quickly respond to complaints to eject rowdy holidaymakers. It worked to a certain extent but with no forced compliance, some absent landlords did not care about being neighbourly and are only interested in the rental return.
There have been a myriad of proposals and counter proposals over the years generating varying degrees of heat. The issue has now come to a head with recent court cases deciding that residential property that is short term let on a consistent basis needs to be classified as a tourist and visitor accommodation business. It therefore needs to be licensed as such.
Byron Shire Council responded to this new legal situation and quickly sprang into action (joke!). As of next year, anyone wishing to holiday let his or her home or secondary property will need to get approval with a DA (Development Application). Cost of this will be under $500. You can be exempted from needing a DA if you let your home for less than 90 days a year and it has less than three bedrooms.
As a property Buyer’s Agent in this area I get to experience all sides of this debate. I have had clients who want me to find them a property they can holiday let (usually for a couple of years prior to them moving here themselves and living in it). I get clients who want to move to Byron but do not want to be anywhere near HL properties. I know people who occasionally have a subsidised holiday by renting the house during Xmas or Easter and taking off. I have queried whether noisy tourists in HL properties are really such a big issue. I was quickly educated from people unfortunate enough to be in close proximity to a badly managed HL property that it is a soul-destroying experience. All these views are valid and everyone is right. What to do?
I think the current plan is probably a good middle line. In some cases I would go further. Council could charge more from permanent HLs so that the Shire can gain income from it. Currently there is no way for council to take a clip from tourists while still providing infrastructure for them. I think council and the community should support and acknowledge the good work the HLO have been doing. Also the work the accommodation industry has done in rebranding Byron Bay as a more upmarket destination rather than a backpacker party destination is working. A couple, or small family, sipping a chardonnay at sunset do not make as much noise as 20 back packers.
The VoHL lobby have a right to ensure they can live peacfully and quitley in their own home. But to completely eliminate HL may create more problems than it resolves. It could hugely diminish tourism in Byron Bay and I know some think that’s a good thing. But more likely, it would force the construction of more 3-story accommodation complexes, tear down many of existing homes and ruin the small town beach atmosphere and change make a change more negative than HL ever did. I am pretty sure the majority of Byron’s long-term residents do not want to turn it into just another Kempsey or Coffs Harbour.