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Short term rentals’ reform a step closer

Geoff Helisma | Managing short term rentals in Yamba has been a headache of sorts for Clarence Valley Council (CVC) – in March this year councillors unanimously decided to implement “a program of community education for a period of 3 months, focusing on the canal area of Yamba”. This decision included a direction to staff to “investigate and, where substantiated, take enforcement action … where serious community impacts, including neighbour disputes or conflicts (party house), are alleged”, as a result of short term holiday letting. The decision was taken as an interim measure while CVC awaits the NSW Government’s decisions about regulating the industry. The Fair Trading Amendment (Short-term Rental Accommodation) Bill 2018 was passed in the NSW parliament on Tuesday August 14. Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean said in a media statement that the legislation will result in a “tougher but fairer regulation from 2019”. “The short-term holiday letting reforms bolster NSW’s sharing economy while clamping down on unruly guests,” he said. “Our plan is a win-win: it acknowledges the huge financial contribution online booking platforms make to the NSW economy, but also takes a zero-tolerance approach to raucous guests.” The bill prescribes the development of a code of conduct to manage noise levels and disruptive behaviour – the mandatory code will apply to online accommodation platforms, letting agents, hosts and guests. Those found guilty of breaching the code can be fined up to 1,000 penalty units for a corporation ($110,000) and 200 penalty units for and individual ($22,000). “Under our ‘two strikes and you’re out’ policy, hosts or guests who commit two serious breaches of the code within two years will be banned for five years, and be listed on an exclusion register,” Mr Kean said. The Strata Schemes Management Act will be amended so owners’ corporations will be able to pass by-laws to ban short-term letting in their block, if it is not the host’s primary place of residence, provided 75 per cent of the owners agree. The Department of Planning and Environment will implement a new planning framework that will allow short stays as “exempt development” 365 days per year if the host is present on site overnight. Stays in the Greater Sydney area will be limited to 180 days per year when the owner is not present, however, in the rest of NSW short term rental properties will be regarded as “exempt development” 365 days of the year, unless the local government decides otherwise, allowing for a minimum 180 days per year. “Certain planning rules will apply to properties on bushfire prone land,” the Department of Planning’s website states. A spokesperson for the Yamba Resident’s & Community Action Group, which has been the main complainant to CVC, said “members welcome the new legislation as it provides some strong regulation”. “With the changes to the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP), short term rentals are allowed in all residential zones across the state,” he said. “The downside for residents is the door is now open to an increase in holiday rentals in residential zones.” The spokesperson said, however, that the ‘two strikes you’re out’ policy “gives residents who are negatively affected the ability to have complaints dealt with, an avenue residents have not had before”. “The downside for our local motels and similar businesses is that these holiday rentals are commercial operations and are exempt from the high rates and fees payable by traditional businesses,” he said. The spokesperson was hopeful that CVC would restrict stay days to the 180 minimum. “We believe 180 days a year is more than fair, as it gives residents some respite and provides some degree of fairness to traditional accommodation providers,” he said. The spokesperson pointed out that the prohibition of short term rentals within designated bush fire prone areas such as Angourie, Iluka, Woombah, Wooli, Minnie Water and Wooloweyah, “will be a significant challenge to CVC, who will have to enforce this part of the legislation”. A CVC spokesperson has advised that the three-month community education program is due to start shortly.