Short-stay debate reignites after resident floats idea of register to the City of Melbourne

Brendan Rees

A respected Southbank short-stay operator and an owners corporation believe an idea mooted to have a register regulating the use of short-stay accommodation could be problematic.

The years’ long short-stay debate resurfaced after the City of Melbourne’s Future Melbourne Committee meeting on May 17 heard a question from a Docklands resident asking if it would establish a short-stay register to “ensure an appropriate standard of management and behaviour”.

The proposal accompanied the resident expressing concerns that the precinct had been “negatively impacted” by noise, parties, and drug activity at short stays.

The resident, Phil Kan, whose question was read out by Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece, asked if the council had a timeline to do something about the issue, noting Australia had introduced regulations aimed at ensuring visitors could share accommodation without disruptive behaviour.

While the council acknowledged it was a “good question”, it did not endorse or discuss the proposal.

Instead, Cr Reece read out a council-prepared statement which referred to changes to Owners’ Corporations Act 2006 that allowed an owners’ corporation (OC) and residents to take Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) action against property owners “where unreasonable impacts are caused by way of damage, hazards, noise, and behaviours”.

“This legislation applies directly to properties where an OC exists, which makes up a high proportion of residential development within the city, unlike the needs of other councils where the same circumstances may not apply,” it said.

Tony Penna, a long-standing Southbank short-stay operator, questioned the effectiveness of a register if such an initiative were to be considered, saying “what do you want that register to achieve?”

“Having the register is one thing, but then has that owner proposed that that register be available to residents ... and to OCs?” he told Southbank News.

“You’ve got a whole lot more questions that need to be asked about that register before we know the effectiveness of it.”

“There’s always going to be layers of bureaucracy; the council might have a register but then will be the Privacy Act 1988 apply to that? Even though the residents are there, the council may not have the authority to tell anybody who’s on the register.”

“They need to be careful … and if it makes it more accessible etc, and what that could potentially do for those investments people have made.”

Mr Penna added, “this whole discussion goes right back several years before the amendments to the OC Act”, including a proposal for a register which he said was shelved after a final report was handed down in June, 2017.”

Karthi Sugumaran, the senior owners’ corporation manager for Network Pacific, which manages the Tiara Southbank skyscraper on Haig St, said short-stay operators had an obligation to inform OCs about the status of their accommodation.

“If they’re not telling us then how can we do anything? A register will help, but how is the council going to enforce it? That’s a different thing,” he said.

“It goes both ways, it’s up to the owner to disclose all these details to the council, but then how can it be effective?”

“It’s like anyone buying a new house these days, if they don’t do their checks to see what is done in the background then they won’t know, but it’s dependent on the vendor and how much they disclose to the incoming purchaser.”

Mr Sugumaran said if there was a problem in a building “it is because it’s not being communicated properly”.

“Ninety per cent of the time if it’s not communicative then of course it will fall on deaf ears,” he said.

“In the buildings I look after that’s pretty much a non-issue because we communicate, and everyone is fully aware of what needs to be done.”

This sentiment was also shared by Mr Penna who said he always communicated with building managers.

“I tell them if there is a problem with any of my properties, call me straight away anytime of the night and I’ll be there in a heartbeat,” he said.

“In many, many cases, I will evict them if they’re not following my rules.”

Joel Chamberlain, the OC manager at Horizon Strata, a property management firm in Docklands, said he struggled to see how a register would work.

“It might help people who are looking to purchase or rent, but not existing residents. I don’t think it would help them control or deal with issues on the ground,” he said.

The Docklands Representative Group believed the council’s response at its meeting “missed the point of the question”, saying “VCAT is a channel for complaints – meaning that it is used after damage or disturbance has occurred.”

If a VCAT claim is successful, owners can be fined up $1100 while affected residents can be awarded $2000 in compensation.

Sources told Southbank News that short-stay guest compliance “obviously isn’t such a big problem” in Southbank but speculated with the abundance of short stays renting at a lower price in Docklands it may “attract a certain demographic” and lead to “potential problems”. •

When the circus came to Southbank

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