Short-stays exploit family violence loophole


In a new low for a controversial industry, short-stay guests have claimed to be victims of family violence to get around the Stage 3 and 4 bans on Airbnb and similar services. In banning short-term letting platforms from providing holiday accommodation, the DHHS included a “List of Permitted Operations” that perhaps, unwittingly, provided a loophole for diehard sort-stay operators, viz: There were no guidelines as to how these services could be accessed in private residential buildings, or no information on where the people requiring accommodation could go for assistance. Only one of the nine permitted operations – people returning to their own home – was directly applicable to residential strata buildings. The other permitted operations including essential services, family violence, homelessness, etc. would have required an agency or some other body to facilitate it. The short-stay industry in Victoria has been almost eliminated by the COVID-19 pandemic, firstly by the absence of tourists and now the legal ban. However, a few intractable operators are trying to keep operating for guests armed with fake stories. One such fake story relating to family violence was reported to “We Live Here”. Making a false claim to be a victim of family violence is much more than an affront to other residents; it shows egregious disrespect to genuine victims of family violence. This new short-stay scam is truly disgraceful. Isolated party apartments despite legal ban The one issue that the police have been responding to during the Stage 3 and 4 restrictions have been parties and conducting drug raids. Guests have been evicted, charged and fined. We have not heard of any owners of the relevant apartments being charged – they should have been. Other reports of strangers in buildings, avoiding reception, gaining access via carparks, etc. have been all too common. There is no official record of the person or reason for being there – and what would happen in an emergency? Calls and emails to the COVID-19 hotline for advice have mostly gone nowhere. Paying attention to parties and drug busts is not enough. There is a ban on short stays and the authorities are not responding to calls to enforce the law. Stage 4 lockdown Additional restrictions and guidelines issued for multi-dwelling properties with shared facilities include the following directive: “Holiday visitors are currently not permitted in Victoria. This includes short-stay accommodation. Victoria Police are conducting routine enforcement of restrictions and can issue on the spot fines of up to $1652 for individuals.” Also included in the guidelines is a mandate for COVIDSafe plans to be implemented: Development of COVIDSafe plans Restricting access to communal areas Safety and hygiene measures for open and communal areas and facilities. Use of face coverings Four sqm rule Notification of positive cases If implemented accordingly it now creates another reason why apartments in residential buildings should not be used for any other purpose than to accommodate permanent residents: It is simply that the modus operandi of short-term letting is totally at odds with maintaining a COVIDSafe building. It actually creates a potential health hazard. Frustrated residents have reported illegal short-stay activity to the COVID-19 Hotline, also to Victoria Police via their hotline and in person. The stock reply, if there has been any response at all, was, “we have no authority to act”. How many times have we heard that over the past few weeks! Have DHHS and Victoria Police trained its operators to read off the same script? It’s clear that short-stays in apartment buildings operate quite differently compared with those in free standing holiday-let properties. It’s an important difference the government needs to understand. How has your building responded to COVID? With no help from the COVID-19 hotline or the police, residents are telling us that the task has been left to the strata manager. How has your building fared? The Stage 4 lockdown has shown up: the good – managers working in harmony with the OC and residents, and taking it in their stride; the indecisive – managers changing their mind from supporting the OC to being unsure what to do next; and the bad – managers totally ignoring the concerns of residents. Despite some glitches, our buildings are now generally cleaner, safer, more secure than most us can ever remember. After the restrictions? Unfortunately, there is currently no law in Victoria that prevents short-stays in residential buildings once the restrictions are lifted. Buildings need to prepare now for how to deal with short-stays in a post-lockdown era. Your COVIDSafe plan must have specific rules for registering short-stay guests and the six mandatory requirements shown above. In the coming months we will keep you posted on how you can manage the post-lockdown recovery phase with more information in this column and at our website •

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