Dramatic developments in the ongoing Short-Term Holiday Letting (STHL) saga came to the fore last month. Just when NSW state government was about to introduce their brand new policy, everything went pear-shaped and the excrement hit the air circulation device.
The NSW State Government have just spent years in committee and consultation with stakeholders. The Premier and better regulation minister Matt Kean were about to introduce a policy allowing STHL for 180 days a year in urban areas and high rise. Unlimited in rural and regional areas unless decreed by the LGA – which Byron would do. The minister abruptly cancelled the announcement after a joint Coalition party room meeting could not agree.
They then came back with a modified version. STHL #2 beefed up the regulation and penalties. All STHL properties will need to be licensed, be legal and approved. If your property is reported more than twice for creating noise or disturbance, you can lose your licence to holiday let.
Our local state National party member, Ben Franklin, was part of the backbench revolt. Apparently, 40% of Liberal and Coalition members were antagonistic to the proposal. Much of their constituency is not happy with the number of units and homes being used for tourism instead of permanent residents.
Byron Shire Council (BSC) also went on the offensive against the HL industry. On the 11th of May, BSC sent a letter to local real estate agents. It said Council’s legal advice was that agents, as well as HL property owners, were liable for prosecution if managing illegal holiday lets.
The counter argument
Real estate agent Tony Farrell from LJ Hooker Byron Bay disputes the legal opinion of BSC. The STHL industry apparently has solid legal advice that a property owner has the legal right to sublet their own premises at any time and for any length of time. Apparently, there is a plan for some agents to self-fund a court ruling on this and are confident of the decision. The devil is in the detail of the wording in the legislation.
A representative of HLO (Holiday Letting Organisation) has also countered that the BSC letter was disingenuous. It may have been playing to the gallery in that the letter was only referring to properties that were specifically exempted from STHL. The council has been adding a compliance requirement that some recent Development Applications are only approved if they exempt themselves from holiday letting. This letter may have been referring only to those cases.
Councillors speak against
Cr Michael Lyon is leading the anti-HL campaign for council. Lyon, the manager of Santos Health Food Mullumbimby is convinced STHL is tearing the community apart. He contends that the pool of permanent rental properties has been reduced to a puddle.
Councillor Lyons said, “Unregulated STHL of entire homes on Airbnb and Stayz is ripping our community apart. We must be allowed to rule out certain types of lets. Registration and regulation are essential tools to ensure proper compliance and it is encouraging that the state government appears to be moving in this direction. There has been concern that the lobbying and political donations from the billion dollar platforms might lead to poor decisions here, but there is hope yet.”
Ex-Byron mayor, Jan Barham is also on the offensive over STHL. Quoted in the Echo she says, “The reality is that the permanent use of entire residential dwellings for Airbnb comes at a great cost to residents and to Council. Byron Shire Council has now returned to the position that existed in 2010 ‘to prosecute the owners of unauthorised short-term residential accommodation’. The community should support Council and advise of any impact they encounter to ensure the return of vibrant local community and neighbourhoods.”
This debate has been ongoing for over 20 years now. A previous article details some of the history of this thorny issue. It has only become a problem at the same time Byron Bay area has become so popular. Holiday letting of privately owned homes has been going on for many decades. Brunswick Heads has properties that have been holiday let for over a century.
Somehow the proportion of HL properties needs to stay in balance with residential homes. They also need to be well managed and well regulated. The new plan was probably not going to achieve this. The strategy was hoping that allowing only 180 days of letting a year was going to restrict the HL industry to owners letting during holidays. This may be good in theory but the STHL industry is saying that amateur letting operators are what is wrong and they are giving the HL a bad name.
Global businesses like Airbnb are also being disingenuous. Letting out a room or small studio in their house and acting as hosts to guests and travellers may seem benign and harmless – it is. But people who are operating multiple permanent homes as a business, especially if not living locally, need to contribute to the economy the same as B&Bs and hotels – regardless of what the rules are.
The section of the population who want to kill HL completely also need to wise up. The best way to keep some tourism economy and keep Byron (and Brunswick Heads) as funky, user-friendly beach towns is to accommodate some people in homes rather than hotels or B&Bs. There is no way of putting Byron Bay back in the bottle of a sleepy working-class village. People who want that should choose the myriad small coastal towns that offer that option.
The latest round of opposing views means that a resolution is still a long way away. The state parliamentary committee had what they thought was a solution but council and residents viewed it as too lenient towards the holiday letters. This story is our own local version of the Middle East problem. Opposing camps have been on the cusp of a solution numerous times and it keeps falling over. I think we have the same situation in that both sides don’t really want to fix it.