Residents still concerned about short-stay

By Meg Hill

When Melbourne, and then Victoria, re-entered lockdown in July and August, some residents hoped that short-stay operators had been put out of business for at least the medium term, if not for good.

Guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services Victoria (DHHS) for multi-dwelling properties clarified that private holiday rental facilities (such as Airbnb) were not permitted under stage three or four restrictions, unless they fell into one of eight exceptions.

We Live Here founder Barbara Francis said those exceptions effectively created loopholes for short-stay operators to continue to operate.

“When strangers started appearing in some buildings, that is without the foreknowledge of managers or the owners’ corporations (OCs), it indicated some die-hard short-stay operators were involved,” Ms Francis said at a forum host- ed by Residents First – a council ticket which ran in last month’s City of Melbourne elections.

The DHHS guidelines stated exemptions were:

to a person whose place of residence is the accommodation facility

to a person who is ordinarily a resident of Victoria but has no permanent place of residence in Victoria

to a person who has a permanent place of residence in Victoria, but that place is temporarily unavailable

to a person, on a temporary basis, who has travelled to Victoria for work purposes

to a person who was already a temporary guest of the accommodation facility on July 8 2020

to a person who requires emergency accommodation, including in relation to family violence and other vulnerable groups

to a person who requires accommodation for work purposes, where their work is for the purposes of responding to the state of emergency in existence under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008

to a person who is subject to a Direction and Detention Notice, the Diagnosed Persons and Close Contacts Direction or a Detention Direction

The short-stay industry was one of the hardest hit sectors when the pandemic began, and holiday travel stopped. Ms Francis said the industry posed a health risk in the context of a pandemic.

“It is simply that the modus operandi of short term letting is totally at odds with maintaining a COVID-safe plan, it actually creates a potential health hazard,” she said.

Strata lawyer Tom Bacon told the forum apartment owners would have no control over keeping short-stays out of their buildings coming out of lockdown.

“There’s just nothing that can be done and that of course is the great disappointment here,” he said.

“The Subdivision Act 1988 and the Owners’ Corporation Act 2019, the legislation that governs short term stays, just has nothing express written in it regarding short term stays.”

Mr Bacon said a court case that had tried to enforce rules created by OCs to stop short-stays was struck down by the Supreme Court because of the lack of attention to the issue in the legislation.

He said the only legislation on the issue was written subsequently by the Labor Government to permit short-stay letting.

“You don’t have to be too smart to work out that it’s the people coming from interstate or overseas that catch the bug and then if they don’t quarantine for a period of time then it gets out into the community,” he said.

“And if these restrictions lift and if hotel quarantine is lifted or Airbnb is allowed to be a form of quarantine then you’ve got potentially infected people that have come from all over the country if not all over the world in close proximity with all of the residents.”

What weighs on residents’ minds?

Reports of dumped rubbish spiked in Southbank during Melbourne’s two lockdowns.

According to data from Send Snap Solve, an app designed to facilitate reporting of community issues, the issue became the number one reported issue across the country. In most places, including Southbank, it replaced illegal parking in the top spot.

As reported in Southbank News previously, there were reports that dumped rubbish stemmed from the collapse of the short-stay industry.

Send Snap Solve managing director Jarrod Pepper said he suspected it was also a symptom of people spending so much time confined in their own homes.

“I think people felt pretty cluttered and claustrophobic spending more time in their own homes than ever before,” he said.

With less people around, graffiti reports also rose slightly. More walking meant locals were also noticing more issues with pavements.

Southbank’s three most reported issues for the year so far were dumped rubbish, graffiti and pavement issues.

Mr Pepper said with Melbourne coming out of lockdown the trends were already changing.

“Just in the past three weeks we’re seeing illegal parking come back up to number one in many places so I’m pretty confident that by the end of the year parking issues nationally will have overtaken dumped rubbish,” he said.

Send Snap Solve has been facilitating community reporting for 10 years. It receives reports from residents and provides them to local government and other authorities.

“We exist primarily to make reporting issues in the community easier,” Mr Pepper said.

“One of the things in the inner city is that quite often who is responsible for things is convoluted, A burst water main is the water authority’s responsibility, but a blocked gutter is the council’s.”

“So, the purpose of our app is to do the work for the resident. We send the reports we get to the relevant authority.” •

Join our Facebook Group