Airbnb battle destroys good relations

SHORT-TERM accommodation sharing, facilitated by sites like Airbnb and Stayz, is a highly contentious issue on the North Coast following the recent Parliamentary inquiry's recommendations.

It was recommended that short-term accommodation sharing should be legal across the state with just one universal set of regulations, a proposal that is being widely disputed as tensions reach boiling point in the region's biggest tourist town.

Founder of Victims Of Holiday Letting (VOHL) Doug Luke is on the front line of what he calls the 'battle' against holiday letting in Byron Bay and the collateral damage of the war has been destroyed relationships with neighbours in his strata.

He claims that others in Victims Of Holiday Letting have had "disturbing experiences" that left them afraid of speaking out and even forced them to move.

"We've had cases where people have complained and the owner has got in touch with the people in the holiday let, and when those people have left they've abused the neighbours for complaining about their unreasonable behaviour," Mr Luke said.

"We've had people who have had a holiday let next door who have been forced to sell because of people disturbing them day or night."

'Disappointing' recommendations

Mr Luke said the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry's recommendations were "disappointing" and VOHL was not the only organisation that felt this way.

Tourism Association Australia CEO Carol Giuseppi said that while the report was a good start, NSW needed strong regulations on people who were using short-term accommodation sharing sites as commercial properties.

"We are not against genuine 'sharing', but we believe there needs to be adequate regulations imposed on non-resident commercial property investors - especially multiple-property owners - who rent out full apartments for short term stays," Ms Giuseppi said.

Speaking with similar sentiment, Owners' Corporation Network Spokesperson Stephen Goddard said the report failed communities and concerned neighbours like Doug Luke.

"The Inquiry's failure to recognise that owners must have the right to choose how their collective asset will be used is a breach of fundamental democratic principles. That holds us back as a community," Mr Goddard said.

Extra income is 'great news'

On the other hand, Airbnb have welcomed the report's recommendations.

"It's great news for thousands of everyday Australians who are making a little extra income by opening their homes to travellers and welcoming them to NSW," Airbnb Australia manager Sam McDonagh said.

Many believe that Airbnb is simply used for accommodation sharing but VOHL's Doug Luke claims otherwise.

"People get the impression that people are letting out individual rooms but they are letting out whole houses," Mr Luke said.

Across the country in Melbourne, the We Live Here movement is fighting their own war against short term accommodation sharing and also doesn't believe the problem is some people making 'a little extra income'.

Though they've got a bigger army than Byron's VOHL, Spokesperson of We Live Here Barabara Francis says that it is still an uphill battle.

"We've got numbers but it's a huge job that taps into a huge need, there's people out there that are not being heard and we're trying to give those people a voice," Ms Francis said.

She's willing to work with Airbnb to find a solution that works for everyone.

"We can sit down with the Airbnb people and talk to the Government and say look we can work with these people," she said.

Hotline for complaints

Meanwhile, action has been taken in Byron Bay to appease frustrated neighbours in the form of the Holiday Letting Organisation (HLO) a few years ago with a hotline for complaints, though Mr Luke said it was largely ineffective.

"We've had the formation of the HLO which runs a hotline for complaints which isn't satisfactory, if you complain you're likely to be accused of making a vexatious complaint," Mr Luke said.

He claims that a large amount of the time the hotline will direct people to contact the police who don't want to get involved and residents are left with no option but to suck it up.

"The hotline's recommendation outside operating hours is that you call the police, but the police have told us that they don't want to be involved in this as they don't have the resources," he said.

Previous control 'ineffective'

President of the HLO John Gudgeon asserts that the hotline is successful, and that the HLO has campaigned for universal guidelines to short term accommodation sharing and are happy with the Parliamentary Inquiry's recommendations.

"We've been calling for years for uniform definition and uniform regulation right across the whole state that every council has to deal with in the same particular way and that seems to be what has come out of the parliamentary report and we very much welcome that," Mr Gudgeon said.

Previous attempts to control the situation in Byron have proved ineffective, a Short Term Rental Accommodation Policy drafted by the Byron Shire Council came back from the state government's gazettal with the conditions to protect neighbours removed.

On the council's agenda

The issue is on Byron Shire Council's agenda and they are meeting about it next Thursday, and as the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry's recommendations are still only recommendations, there is still time for Byron Residents that disagree to battle on.

Though the personal price they may pay for going to war could be huge.