No let up for holiday let
For those new to the shire, or been living under a rock, one of our major battle lines has been over holiday letting. The quick uptake of AirBNB and other accommodation sharing sites has left LGAs and regulators in catch up mode.
Byron Shire Council has been wrestling with the issue for some time. It now looks like getting close to a resolution with a new plan about to be introduced by the NSW State Government.
Byron Bay hosts over one and half million visitors a year and they need to stay somewhere – eliminate day-trippers and campers. Hotels, resorts and B&Bs take most and the rest find their way into self managed houses, either in rooms or fully let out houses operating as small businesses. Should a private residential house be able to be run as a business? Since they don’t pay rates, fees or need to be licensed like traditional establishments, is this fair?
The opponents of HL argue that these houses are taken out of the residential pool and are no longer homes for local residents. They argue it pushes up rents, brings investors into the market and the community is diminished as it becomes commercialized and long-term locals are forced out. There is also the loss of amenity when noisy holidaymakers move in next door. Council also has a problem as these HL visitors are using roads, facilities and infrastructure without contributing in the way of rates, fees or taxes.
Many ideas have been floated over the years: approved HL only zones, DA’s and licenses, over 3 bedrooms pay a rate, 3 strikes (complaints) and your out and lose your DA, test case prosecution which will scare owners to desist and many more. All have been proposed, but all are either unworkable or did not get enough support.
This issue is further complicated since there remain opposing views on whether short-term holiday letting is legal or not. Byron Shire Council has attempted to take HL property owners to court on a number of occasions. They were hoping for a test case and to establish a precedent. But each time the HL owner has decided to fold up shop and not defend the case. A few years ago, in Terrigal, the council won against a holiday letting owner. This has falsely been cited as a precedent as the owner was using their apartment for parties, bucks nights and weddings, as well as HL. This clearly was commercial usage, had no chance of being allowed, so is not a legal precedent.
The anti-HL camp (VOHL – Victims Of Holiday Letting) claim using your residential home as a business is not supported in the original Development Application approval and therefore should be prosecuted and fined. The proponents (HLO, the Holiday Let Organisation, a state wide industry-supported body based in Byron Bay) say the opposite. They contend the law is clear that a private house can be let for ‘residential purposes only, regardless of how long the term of stay is for’. Further, even if HL was restricted or abolished, it cannot be retrospective so will only affect new premises.
The NSW government has recognized there is a problem and is pursuing a path to regulation of what they call the Short-Term Holiday Let industry (STHL). There has been an options paper, submissions were called for and the government representatives and stakeholder committee will be delivering the final report in the middle of this year.
The findings should not be preempted but it is probable that the STHL industry is to be regulated by a statutory authority under the Office of Fair Trading. Prospective holiday let operators will need to show their property has a final occupation certificate (fully DA approved) and apply for a license to operate. All licensees will have to operate under a Code of Conduct and their license can be revoked if falling foul of the code.
Regulating the industry and policing rogue operators is the path of least resistance. It will not satisfy the “shut it down” faction but that was not really an option. The industry is now firmly established and turns over $32 billion a year nationally. The new regulations will help with the main issue of having people’s peace and amenity interrupted by noisy neighbours with no recourse.
There is still contention over whether licensing STHL premises will be able to be taxed by local government. HLO says this will not be possible but recent discussions with representatives ofByron council say they will be definitely looking towards a fee charging model which will raising revenue. Byron Council are also looking at the Barcelona model where inspectors are employed specifically to police and ensure compliance on STHL premises. Watch this space.
BPS will bring you follow-up to this ongoing debate after the state government delivers its findings in the middle of the year. For more info on HLO you can contact their website hlobyron.com.au or call 6626 6888.