The red-faced NSW government is pushing on after a recent debacle surrounding the announcement of new regulations to govern accommodation sharing platform Airbnb.
We reported two weeks ago that Premier Gladys Berejiklian and her Better Regulation Minister Matt Kean were left with faces redder than the Airbnb logo after a press conference to announce legislation was cancelled with less than an hour’s notice.
First proposal caused ‘full-on revolt’
Party room sources said backbenchers had staged a full-on revolt, rebelling against proposed changes that would have imposed a 180 night cap on Airbnb rentals in order to stop apartment buildings from turning into ‘quasi hotels’.
The NSW government has been looking into balancing what it calls the “potential social and environmental impacts” of Airbnb-style arrangements with the industry’s “economic contribution of the industry”.
Also included in the rolled NSW legislation was a ‘two strikes’ policy for guests and hosts who cause trouble. After the revolt, a spokesperson for Minister Kean said there would be a delay “while more work is done”.
The revolting party room members were concerned that in South Australia and Tasmania, Airbnb state regulations did not include a cap.
But others said it wasn’t fair that the regulations would have allowed Airbnb rentals to go ahead even if the strata corporation opposed them. Another issue was that platforms such as Airbnb put upwards pressure on already unaffordable rental prices in Sydney and beyond.
The revolt meant the proposal was thrown back to a committee, which sat to consider the matter (Airbnb rules) on June 5.
Read related: NSW Government left red faced over Airbnb debacle
So what happened in Tuesday’s meeting?
Unlike the ‘debacle’ of a fortnight ago, the NSW Government at least got its announcement out of the gate – and this time the Airbnb rules included a 180 day cap and ‘two strikes’ ideas got the green light.
Minister Kean said the new Airbnb rules strike the right balance between supporting the $31 billion sharing economy, giving consumers choice and cracking down on bad behaviour.
The headline news is the creation of a mandatory Code of Conduct, which the Minister says will stamp out “party houses”. The 180 day letting cap, meanwhile, applies only to Greater Sydney, and only when the host is not at home.
“The 180 days a year limit approximately equates to weekends, school holidays and public holidays so we felt this was a fair and balanced approach,” said Anthony Roberts, the Minister for Planning and Housing.
“Councils outside Greater Sydney can decide if permitting short-term holiday letting for the entire year is acceptable for their local communities. This recognises the importance of tourism in some regional communities,” he added.
The Code of Conduct will regulate not only Airbnb and other sharing platforms like HomeAway, but also letting agents, hosts and guests. The idea is to reduce noise, keep disruptive guests out and minimise impact on shared property.
The ‘two strikes’ policy will be policed by NSW Fair Trading, while the Code of Conduct includes a new dispute resolution process.
“Under our ‘two strikes you’re out’ policy, hosts or guests who commit two serious breaches of the Code within two years will be banned for five, and be listed on an exclusion register,” Mr Kean announced.
Owners corporations have been given the power to introduce by-laws that stop Airbnb-style letting if the host doesn’t live there.
“These are the toughest laws in the country and will make sure residents are protected while ensuring that hosts who do the right thing are not penalised,” said the Minister.
Airbnb said new laws ‘fair’
‘Tough’ they might be, but Airbnb hailed NSW’s newly-announced rules as “fair and innovative”.
“They bring the rules for home sharing into the 21st century and send a clear signal that NSW embraces healthy tourism,” said Chris Lehane, Global Head of Policy.
“They protect the rights of respectful and responsible home sharers, while taking a zero tolerance stance on bad behaviour,” he added.
Airbnb’s Australian manager Sam McDonagh agreed, saying that because NSW is such a huge market for house sharing, the rules look after honest Australians.
Not everyone happy with Airbnb rules announcement
But Leo Patterson, the policy officer at the NSW Tenants Union, says he knows why Airbnb is happy. “The 180 day limit is far too long,” he insisted. “You can let out your place every night in summer and well into spring.”
“I’d like to see a lot more information on how this code of conduct will be applied,” she said. Tourism Accommodation Australia agreed, describing the rules as “light touch regulation”.
But another sharing platform, HomeAway (formerly Stayz), thinks the NSW government has actually gone way too far. It says the rules threaten to disrupt not only how people go about their lives, but also the economy.
“These proposals put the important tradition of holidaying at a beach shack, country cottage or city apartment at risk for families and tourists – and deprive many holiday-home owners of income they have come to rely on,” said Eacham Curry, director of corporate and government affairs.
Criticism also came from the NSW Greens, while councillors from Byron Shire continued to slam the government for not stopping Airbnb from “gutting our community”.
“This will mean Byron is a free-for-all market where locals will be priced out to satisfy unsustainable tourism,” said Councillor Michael Lyon.
The opposition, Labor, agrees that what was announced on Tuesday ignores tourist hotspots like Byron Bay. “We need a system that gives more power to local communities to decide what is appropriate for their own towns and we may need different rules for different areas in the shire,” said Labor candidate Asren Pugh.
But one government MP who originally revolted said Tuesday’s announcement was a “reasonable compromise”. The laws will be introduced in the coming months and then reviewed in a year.
Let’s see what happens.