Short-Stay Accommodation Inquiry

Shelter WA appeared at the Legislative Assembly’s Economics and Industry Standing Committee’s Inquiry into Short-Stay Accommodation to outline its submission to Members of the Committee conducting an inquiry.

Launched last year, the inquiry has been investigating the adequacy of the regulation of short-term holiday letting in WA, covering issues including customer safety, insurance, land use planning, building standards, stay length, neighbourhood amenity, registration, licensing and taxation.

Currently tourism operators such as hotels, serviced apartments, bed and breakfasts and caravan parks are subject to a variety of different regulations, depending on their local government, Local Planning Scheme, local laws and planning policies. These frameworks do not adequately address regulation of short-term providers – including those letting private rooms or homes, through online platforms like Airbnb.

Shelter WA Acting Chief Executive Officer Lisa Kazalac, and Policy Officer Dr Klaudia Mierswa discussed the impact that short-stay accommodation can have on housing affordability with Inquiry Members Jessica Shaw MLA, Chair of the Economics and Industry Standing Committee; Yaz Mubarakai MLA, Member for Jandakot; Sean L’Estrange MLA, Member for Churchlands and Stephen Price MLA, Member for Forrestfield.

In its submission Shelter WA argued that the short-stay accommodation sector is reshaping housing tenure and structure in private markets through direct affordability impacts in localised areas and by distorting the role of residential housing from being a home to a commercial venture.

[L-R] Shelter WA Policy Officer Dr Klaudia Mierswa and Acting Chief Executive Officer Lisa Kazalac.

In her opening remarks Lisa Kazalac used an example of what was happening in tourism towns to make her point. “We believe that there needs to be localised planning strategies to limit short-stay accommodation and ensure adequate affordable rental supply in areas with strong short-stay accommodation sectors and tourist appeal, such as Margaret River, Busselton and Dunsborough areas, to address the concentrated impact of short-stay accommodation in those areas,” Ms Kazalac said.

“Our main concerns really come down to the fact that what we are starting to see, and it is happening across Australia in places like Tasmania and it has happened around the world—we do not have a problem with owner–occupier short-stay accommodation where you are letting out a room and things like that.

“But the issue is when we start to see that private investment properties that would normally be available for affordable rental in the private rental market are now starting to become less prevalent, so the supply and stock of private rental housing is shortening. The most important thing we want to care about is the people at the lower income end who rely on the private rental housing market to seek accommodation that can be suitable for their needs.

“There are 14 000 households that cannot access affordable housing to begin with, not to mention any latent demand that is out there in the community. When we think about some of these inner-city areas where you cannot access affordable rentals, then that creates issues for those households trying to access that type of rental property.

“It is not just in Margaret River. It is not just in Cottesloe. There can be issues around broader accessibility of housing to meet the community needs—their work requirements, study requirements and family requirements in terms of the size of properties. I think there is a risk that if we do not address the affordable rental component in our system of housing, then we are going to compound what that means for social outcomes.”

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On the issue of short-stay accommodation portals Shelter WA pointed out they were not against providers like Airbnb. “There is definitely a place for short-stay accommodation portals and listing technology. We are certainly not averse to that,” Ms Kazalac told the inquiry.

“Technology is going to keep doing this to various different industries. We have seen it in real estate and we have seen it in various different guises—transport, for example.

“It is not a case of stopping things, but it is about: how do we create a regulatory environment where there is transparency, there is understanding, things fit together and there is the right level and the right type of competition? If those structures are put in place, then we will not end up down here with massive social issues.”

Attention turned to the City of Fremantle’s local law governing short stay accommodation – the Short Stay Accommodation Local Law 2008 which has been in operation since March 2009. The law raised by Shelter WA in its submission demonstrates one way to approach short-stay accommodation regulation.

Under questioning about how the Fremantle approach could be a case study for Shelter WA to look at Ms Kazalac acknowledged the benefits of light regulation.

“I think our point that we made in the submission is that light-touch regulation around registration is really important and that is where the Fremantle example demonstrates the positive transparency you can gain from that as a community member but also as someone who wants to operate a short-stay accommodation property,” Ms Kazalac noted.

Dr Klaudia Mierswa noted that while no through detail had been made available, they had heard the complaints process had improved.

“What we have heard from the City of Fremantle is that this law had a positive impact on complaints that were issued by neighbours that live in proximity to houses that were used for short-stay accommodation purely because of the fact that now, if there is a complaint, the law points out that it has to be an operator, or the contact details of an operator have to be on hand, and that person has to be contactable 24/7, so if an issue arises, that person can deal with it directly,” Dr Mierswa said.

At the conclusion of the inquiry the discussion turned to disabled access for Airbnb-type rentals and where the onus of responsibility would lie in providing suitable access for a person with disabilities.

The Chair of the Economics and Industry Standing Committee asked Shelter WA to provide supplementary submission criteria for accessibility terms that could be used on an accommodation platform.