26/09/2019 - 16:01

Push for regulation of short-stay sector

26/09/2019 - 16:01

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Industry bodies are divided over a plan to increase regulation of short-stay accommodation providers such as Airbnb, with Tourism Council WA and the Australian Hotels Association among supporters of the proposed rules.

Push for regulation of short-stay sector
Jessica Shaw says many Airbnb owners are not complying with the rules set out by their local governments.

Industry bodies are divided over a plan to increase regulation of short stay accommodation providers such as Airbnb, with Tourism Council WA and the Australian Hotels Association among supporters of the proposed rules.

The ‘Inquiry into the Regulation of Short-Term Accommodation in Western Australia’ carried out by the WA parliament's Economics and Industry Standing Committee heard more than 350 submissions from a range of stakeholders including Airbnb owners, guests, neighbours and competitors.

The committee found that while WA had experienced rapid growth in short-term rentals – with at least 20,000 listings available in the state – local governments have struggled to address this growth.

Committee chair Jessica Shaw said many local governments are responsible for regulating Airbnbs and have frameworks in place.

“Unfortunately, some short-term rental owners are not complying with the rules because they are unaware that they exist or they are actively trying to avoid regulation,” she said.

“There is also a degree of variation between local government areas.”

Ms Shaw said local governments each have a different set of concerns with short-stay accommodation.

“Some areas are concerned very much with planning issues,” she said.

“They’re worried about the location of short-stay properties in residential areas, that in non-peak seasons (they will) become ghost towns.

“Other local governments are very concerned with issues around amenity (such as) the behaviours of guests, and that’s perhaps not most appropriately addressed through the planning framework.”

Ms Shaw said the committee received strong evidence that short-term rentals should be regulated under a state-wide register, with many inquiry participants suggesting rentals should include a registration number.

In a press conference today, however, Ms Shaw acknowledged challenges with publicly-available registers.

“There are obvious privacy considerations if you put a heap of information on the public record,” she said.

“However, in other jurisdictions, there are registers available and tourists are encouraged to check that the property they are renting is appropriately registered and licenced.”

Ms Shaw said requiring registration, and then having local governments determine what conditions it would allow short-term rentals to operate under, would help level the playing field in the industry.

“The registration scheme itself won’t impose severe restrictions,” she said.

“There may be only four or five pieces of information that’s required to be listed on the register.

“Any additional constraints… will be imposed by local government, so the existence of the registration scheme itself is intended to be incredibly light touch.”

Tourism Council WA announced it would support the registration scheme, with chief executive Evan Hall saying Airbnb rentals can sometimes have an unfair impact on tourism businesses, housing affordability, accessibility and amenity for residents.

“Renting an unhosted residential dwelling on a short-stay basis for commercial gain for even one night means the dwelling is no longer available for long-term residence by an owner or tenant,” he said.

“This can result in what is known as the ‘Venice effect’, where visitors outnumber local residents, which erodes local communities and genuine local, unique experiences for visitors.”

Similarly, the Australian Hotels Association and holiday rental website Stayz agreed the scheme would bring fairness back into the accommodation industry.

“The report is aptly named ‘Levelling the Playing Field’ as for too long we have seen platforms like Airbnb compete directly with licenced accommodation providers, but did not face the same regulatory, taxation or fire and safety burdens,” Australian Hotels Association chief executive Bradley Woods said.

In contrast, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA (CCI) said the committee’s recommendations for a state-wide registration scheme would put the state’s tourism industry at a competitive disadvantage.

It said no other state in Australia currently has an operating registration scheme, and implementing one would heighten uncertainty for short-stay hosts that they are meeting their regulatory requirements. 

The CCI said the implementation of a consistent state-wide framework across all local government areas would reduce the risk of inconsistent regulation.

However, Ms Shaw told journalists today that a ‘one size fits all’ approach would not work in the state.

“Not only did we form that view ourselves, but it came through in submission after submission, from whatever perspective - from traditional accommodation providers, local governments themselves (and) short-term rental owners," she said.

“Local governments must be able to tailor a regime to their local conditions.”

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