New holiday house rental code attracts criticism

Many involved with, or affected by, the holiday house rental industry believe the new Short-Term Rental Accommodation (STRA) code to start December 18 will be ineffectual, at least in its early days.

After years of planning, the NSW Department of Fair Trading recently announced that their new policy would have three parts:

Code of conduct: outlines responsibilities to guests, property owners and holiday rental agents

Exclusion Register: those caught breaking the code will be reported to a property agent or the police who will then forward the complaint to Fair Trading. Fair Trading will investigate. A ‘two strikes and you’re out’ policy means anyone breaching the code can be banned from holiday rental for five years. There will also be on-the-spot fines starting at $550 and rising to several thousand dollars for serious breaches of the code.

Premises Register: the Department of Planning, Industry and Environmeny is developing a government-run premises register and state environment planning policy for STRA to come into effect midway through 2021.

Eacham Curry, Stayz corporate affairs director says they support the suite as a whole but bringing it in piecemeal won’t work.

“If you don’t have the premises register in place to collect data, the scheme becomes toothless and meaningless. The Department has said it won’t prosecute breaches of the code until the premises register is in place around June 1, 2021. So, this is window dressing until then.”

The biggest player in the sector, Airbnb, rejects the plan completely and says it will create onerous red tape.

Julian Crowley, Airbnb’s public affairs office for Asia Pacific, says that South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria have introduced fair and balanced rules.

But the NSW move to require registration will make it harder and more expensive for local families to both earn extra income as a host or afford a holiday as a guest.

Chair of the Destination Kiama Tourism Advisory Committee, Councillor Matt Brown, says that short-term holiday rentals are essential in our local economy as we simply do not have enough beds in our hotels and motels to satisfy demand.

“If fact, just a small event or a few large weddings, will see our towns completely full.

“The new laws introduced are an excellent step in the right direction. They produce certainty and a ‘one stop shop’ for complaints handling.

“The industry needed some overarching regulation. This provides consistency and prevents duplication and confusion.

“However, nothing beats respect, consideration and good manners.”

Those qualities are in short supply from many guests, claims Kiama home owner, Keith Watson.

“The new code effectively won’t do anything,” says Keith who has holiday rental homes either side of him and a further nine or 10 in his street.

“The code has no teeth. Now you contact the home owner to complain about noise that goes on until 3am, but they live 250km away. Even if they do contact the people renting their house, those people then say ‘we are not making a noise’.

“On occasions my wife has asked a group of women (who are often the worst offenders) if they will turn down the noise around midnight. Some say they are so sorry. Others just turn it up louder.

“We can call the police, but they should be out there looking for murderers and burglars, not monitoring noisy and unruly visitors. These properties should require a DA (development application) to operate the business. These houses should have fire blankets, fire alarms, but who controls compliance?

“Everyone has let us down,” he says. “We are just residents.”

Craig McIntosh runs the Holidays Collection which manages holiday rental properties along the South Coast and in the Southern Highlands.

He says, “The new code of conduct will definitely affect the sector, hopefully for the better.

“We will use it as a catalyst to get much tougher on guests and to formalise a lot of what we are already doing. As a company we are going to have a fresh look at our procedures to not only comply with the Code, but always do what we can to drive problematic guests down to zero. In truth, we want that as much as anyone.

“Dealing with difficult guests and the spill over of their behaviour onto neighbours is a very unpleasant experience. I want the Holidays Collection to become known for NOT having problematic guests.”

Another local holiday rental management expert believes that the changes will be useless and that the real issues have not been addressed.

“It’s unfair that holiday home owners can be fined for their guests actions – the guests should be accountable for their own actions.

“The bigger issue is that a home owner next door to a holiday rental can carry on disturbing neighbours, partying all night if they like, and not cop any sort of fine from council because their home isn’t used for holiday rental. So I am not sure how that is fair.

“Car parking is the exact same issue – the neighbours can have cars everywhere yet a holiday property owner gets a fine when his guests have visitors drop by. Where’s the logic here?”

Disclosure: Perrie is the former owner of South Coast Holidays, now part of the Holidays Collection.

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