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NSW still unsure on Airbnb, calls for more input

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Written by Stefan Kostarelis

On Wednesday, the NSW government was due to provide a detailed response from an 18-month parliamentary inquiry into holiday letting and short-term rentals such as those provided by Airbnb.

However, the state’s position on the matter is still far from clear. Of the 12 recommendations suggested by the inquiry, the state government gave unqualified support to just three, leaving the other nine up in the air.

Now, the NSW government says that it will seek input from the public ahead of publishing an options paper next month.

Following what the NSW government calls a “broad consultation” involving the industry and community, the options paper will outline amendments to planning laws and clarifications on short-term renting.

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In 2014, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the council threatened property owners with fines of more than $1 million for renting their homes through short-term accommodation sites such as Airbnb.

These threats, along with problems caused by so-called “party houses” led the state government to conduct an official inquiry into the situation.

Today there are over 17,000 Airbnb listings in Sydney earning hosts an average of $4400 each year.

At present, regulation in NSW is ad hoc, with only 12 councils maintaining rules that apply to short-term stays.

Planning and Housing Minister Anthony Roberts said that the extra time required to make a definitive decision would be worthwhile.

“This is an opportunity for people that live in strata, for people that rent out their rooms to actually participate in policy,” he said. I make no apologies for listening to the people of New South Wales in the development of policy.”

While the NSW government appears to be treading lightly, other major cities have already placed restrictions on the home-sharing service.

In London and San Francisco for example, letting of a residential property is limited to 90 days. In New York, what’s been labelled as a “crackdown” has been taking place. There, short-term rental for less than 30 days in a multi-unit building is prohibited.

Meanwhile, in SA, people renting out rooms through Airbnb are not forced to seek development application.

In a statement last year, Deputy Premier John Rau called short-term rentals “a boost to SA tourism” and said that a person’s period of stay in a residential property should not constitute a “change in use” under the Development Act.

According to the statement, Airbnb is thriving in SA with more than 57,000 guests using the service in 2015. By mid-2016 there were nearly 3,000 Airbnb listings across SA, a number that has almost doubled year on year.

One group that may not be so thrilled about Airbnb’s growth in Australia is the hotel industry.

In February, Deloitte released its Tourism Hotels Market Outlook report.

The report showed that “alternate” accommodation and other private rentals increased 8.7 percent last year. In contrast, the growth in domestic visitor nights spent in hotels grew just 1.2 percent.

Tourism Accommodation Australia CEO Carol Giuseppi told News Corp that the report highlighted that Airbnb was growing at the expense of hotels.

However, Deloitte Access Economics’ Bryon Merzeo did not share her opinion. He said that while it’s true that Airbnb is growing quite strongly, occupancy rates in capital city hotels are also historically high.

Airbnb Country Manager Sam McDonagh said that for the home-sharing platform to grow “no-one had to lose”.