Learning from others

Learning from others
Barbara Francis & Rus Littleson

Around the world, cities are all regulating short stays, sometimes with eye-watering penalties greater than the property value of the apartment involved.

Now, as we hope to leave lockdowns behind us in Melbourne, what short stay listing regulations do we have here? None. Here in Victoria, no oversight, no control over short stay listings. Absolutely none.

If we look around the globe, we can find many examples of regulations that are being refined and adapted as circumstances change.

For example, as tourism in Europe begins to recover from the pandemic, a new Barcelona ban targets the short-term letting of rooms. The city already has a short stay registration and monitoring framework that seeks to rein in whole-apartment short term rentals with heavy fines and threats of suspension.

Janet Sanz, Barcelona’s deputy mayor is quoted in the New York Times as saying, “We love our city and we want to share it – but we need rules and we need balance. People in Barcelona can still rent out a room for a year to a student coming from abroad but for less than 31 days, it’s such a tricky market to regulate that, from now on, we have to stop it.”

Expert research on short stays

If our politicians are going to learn from other cities facing similar problems, how do they get the information they need?

Well, now it’s easier. Two sedulous researchers from the University of Queensland, Dorine von Briel and Sara Dolnicar, have been studying the effect of short stays in cities around the world and the regulations that have been framed in response. They have published a paper: The evolution of Airbnb regulations that identifies a global trend toward increasingly strict rules and stiff penalties targeting an industry that is underreported and difficult to monitor.

Here are a just a few of our observations from reviewing this recent research paper:

  • Berlin: Berlin State enforces annual registration with €100,000 fines for non-compliance. Hosts can only rent their property as a short stay for 90 days a year – and the host must apply for “change of use” permission. The penalty for non-compliance is a whopping €500,000 (A$800,000).
  • London: London City’s power of persuasion helped it thrash out an agreement with Airbnb to limit listings to 90 days per year. Yes, the corporate colossus agreed not to challenge the rule in court.
  • New York: The Big Apple enforces registration of all short-stay listings, with fines for non-compliance ranging from US$1000 for a first offence to US$7500 for a third strike.

Paris: Local municipalities can set annual limits, impose heavy fines on non-compliant hosts, and force hosts to disclose their records to the council. Parisians enjoy a rule that Melbourne desperately needs: All building co-owners must vote and agree to having short stays in the building. Let the residents decide!

San Francisco: New buildings in San Francisco that will allow short stays must have planning approval. The city has also introduced limits and disclosure rules on political funding and controls over politicians’ short-stay interests – something we need in Australia.

Lessons for Victoria

There you have it – a new, Australian independent expert report that we can take to our politicians and say, “The research has been done for you. Now, please show some leadership.”

We Live Here has long argued for the regulations that have been variously implemented in major cities around the world:

  • Let owners’ corporation lot owners decide if their building will have short stays.
  • Limit the number of days that an apartment can be short-term let.
  • Require all short-stay hosts to be registered with the local council.
  • Introduce proportionate penalties for non-compliance.

Thank you, Dorine von Briel, and Sara Dolnicar from the University of Queensland for documenting the global regulatory reality. Victorian politicians should be suitably edified.

What are the parties’ policies?

We have been talking with all major parties about regulating short stays. We have engaged with the first, second and third Minister for Consumer Affairs, currently Melissa Horne. We met with Planning Minister Richard Wynne. We had talks with the Leader of the Liberal Party in the Legislative Council, David Davis. And we have ongoing communications with the Greens.

Even through the pandemic we tried to keep engaged with politicians across the political spectrum, via Zoom of course. We have been providing Victorian politicians with case studies, precedent legislation and regulations from other jurisdictions, expert reports, impact statements and statistics.

After all the work we have done, we are very pleased to see that at least one party continues formally to support our practical plans for dealing with short-stay apartments.

Ellen Sandell, Greens State MP for Melbourne, has again published a call for regulation of the short-stay industry, something we have been arguing strenuously.

And when we talk about short stays, we mean much more than unruly parties. Short stays bring many challenges to apartment living, with the attendant impacts on security, liveability, amenity, maintenance costs, community fabric, housing affordability and – most salient now – infection management. These are the issues we have canvassed with politicians of all persuasions.

We applaud Ellen Sandell’s announcement. We call on members of the government and the opposition to acknowledge that having well-researched policies for regulating short stays is indeed politic – your electors want to know how you will protect residents.

Disappointing anniversary

February 2002 marks the disappointing anniversary of a major deadline missed by the state government.

In 2018, the government committed to a review of the Owners’ Corporation Amendment (Short-stay Accommodation Act) by February 2019.

The government needs to set up the review and implement significant changes before the pre-pandemic short-stay problems flood back. We asked about this promised review when we met late last year with the current Minister for Consumer Affairs, Melissa Horne. Let’s get this started, please.

Coming up …

Next month we will give you an update on the committee-stacking scandal that we have been following in this column. Plus, we will talk about the recently announced “design-to-rent” development that will deliver thousands of rental apartments and an equal number of unfettered opportunities for rent sharks to convert apartments to short stays en masse •

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