Strata building by-laws restricting short-stay letting, including Airbnb, declared ‘invalid’ by Fair Trading | Owners Corporation Network

Strata building by-laws restricting short-stay letting, including Airbnb, declared ‘invalid’ by Fair Trading

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Short-term letting is problematic in some areas.

Short-term letting is problematic in some areas.

 

Strata building by-laws restricting short-stay letting, including Airbnb, declared ‘invalid’ by Fair Trading

 

JIMMY THOMSON

JUL 7, 2017

 

All by-laws restricting Airbnb​ and other short-stay letting in residential-only apartment blocks are invalid, according to NSW Fair Trading.

Only weeks before the discussion paper on new holiday letting legislation is released, Fair Trading has modified its Strata Living handbook to warn strata committees and owners corporations that they can’t pass by-laws restricting holiday lets.

“Strata laws prevent an owners corporation restricting an owner from letting their lot, including short-term letting,” says a recent amendment to Strata Living. “The only way short-term letting can be restricted is by council planning regulations.”

And that, says a government spokesperson, means by-laws telling owners that they must abide by local council zoning restrictions are invalid as only local councils can enforce their zoning.

By-laws supporting local zoning have been used by some strata schemes as a way around the restrictions on by-laws directly banning short-term letting.

However, a spokesperson for Innovation and Better Regulation Minister Matthew Kean, who has responsibility for Fair Trading, this week confirmed that they are invalid.

“The local council ‘owns’ the zoning regulation,” the spokesperson told Fairfax Media. “Only they can enforce it.”

“Section 139 (2) of the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 states that no by-law can prohibit or restrict the devolution of a lot or a transfer, lease, mortgage or other dealing relating to a lot,” the Fair Trading spokesperson said.

Airbnb said it welcomed any such moves that protected the rights of people to share their own homes.

“It would be unfair to discriminate against apartment dwellers, and prevent them from participating in the sharing economy in the same way house dwellers can,” Head of Public Policy ANZ at Airbnb Brent Thomas said.

But this ruling has raised concerns among strata owners, amid reports that in the Sydney areas where short-term letting is most prevalent, local councils are receiving between zero complaints in a year to 10 a month.

With the discussion paper yet to be delivered and the responses then having to be turned into a Bill to be debated and voted on in Parliament, it could be next year before any new laws are enacted.

Until then, says the Ministry, owners can only pursue the issue of short-term lets through their local council.

“OCN looks to the NSW parliament to amend the legislation to allow owners to effectively manage their communities or we will see a summer of chaos in Sydney apartment blocks,” says Karen Stiles, executive officer of the Owners Corporation Network, representing strata owners. “Local council engagement with this is patchy, to say the least.”

A spokesperson for City of Sydney Council – where residential letting is defined as three months or more – denied that they have backed off from pursuing non-compliant holiday lets but said they had very few complaints, two of which were currently being actively pursued.

“The City of Sydney reviews all complaints about illegal activity to determine what compliance action is needed. Priority is given to breaches that involve health or fire safety concerns,” said the spokesperson.

“The City carefully addresses all reports about short-term letting but has received complaints from only a small number of people.”

By contrast, Waverley Council – which covers Bondi Beach – is averaging about 10 complaints about holiday letting a month.

“Where Council receives complaints that relate to the illegal use of a premises for short-term letting – including via Airbnb – council officers undertake an investigation that usually involves an inspection and making contact with the owner of the premises,” a Waverley spokesperson said.

In neighbouring Randwick, however, there has been no council action against non-compliant short-term or holiday letting over the past summer.

“Council … has not had cause to take any regulatory action in this regard,” a council spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for Woollahra Council said they had only had a handful of complaints in the past nine months but two of the properties concerned were now applying for official bed and breakfast permits.

They said the complaints tended to be specific, such as late-night noise or misuse of waste bins, rather than alleged breaches of residential zoning.

North Sydney council defines short-term letting as a commercial enterprise and therefore it’s not permitted in residential-only blocks. A spokesperson said they have dealt with “only” 20 complaints in the past year.

“In response to customer requests relating to short-term letting, Mosman Council resolved to only investigate matters where there is a risk to safety,” says a council spokesperson. “Council has also written to the state government, with a request to consider changes to the legislation.”

The government’s discussion paper on holiday letting legislation is expected to be issued within the next week or so.

“Owners corporations and/or lot owners should seek independent legal advice about the validity and applicability of current or proposed by-laws,” said the government spokesperson.

Jimmy Thomson edits the strata living advice website flat-chat.com.au