Short-stays head back to Supreme Court

The long-running dispute between inner-city residents and short-stay apartment operators took another twist last month with the Watergate owners’ corporation (OC) voting to take its grievance to the Supreme Court.

The Docklands-based OC was on the losing end of a recent Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) hearing which determined it had no power to mandate minimum letting periods.

VCAT Member Linda Rowland in June found that OCs generally did not have the power to make such rules – potentially affecting owners’ corporations across the state.

But in a significant show of strength, Watergate owners on September 14 passed a special resolution to appeal the matter in the Supreme Court. More than 50 per cent (but less than 75 per cent) of lot owners voted to take the court action, which means the matter will have to wait a month before becoming formal.

The OC’s lawyer Tom Bacon promised the matter would be “very cheap”, compared with the hundreds of thousands of dollars the building had already spent fighting short-stays.

He said evidence already presented at VCAT would be submitted in documentary form and he predicted actual court time as “less than a day”.

The Watergate case has become a state-wide test case in the battle against short-stay letting in residential apartments.

Mr Bacon told the special meeting that a specialist panel convened to advise the Planning Minister Richard Wynne and Consumer Affairs Ministers Jane Garrett had resulted in an impasse and the government was consulting more widely.

A spokesperson for Ms Garrett told CBD News the Government intended to “make any necessary changes to the Owners Corporations Act 2006 by early next year.”

The spokesperson said: “The Victorian Government is committed to improving the regulation of apartment buildings so that property is protected from unruly short-stay parties.”

Mr Bacon encouraged owners to take the fight to the Supreme Court because the Government was “watching” and would be less inclined to act in residents’ favour if the vote failed.
“Consumer Affairs representatives are watching to see what Watergate does,” he said.

Mr Bacon also acknowledged that it was unfair that Watergate owners should fund the action, considering OCs around the state would stand to benefit if they won.

Votes taken from the 100 or so residents at the meeting were not actually needed, as the OC committee had previously obtained more than 50 per cent of lot liability in proxies.

Watergate residents have been fighting short stays through various tribunals since 2011 when they joined the City of Melbourne in taking short-stay operators to the Building Appeals Board and had a brief win.

The win was later overturned at the Supreme Court of Appeal and the OC more recently took short-stay operator Paul Salter and his Docklands Executive Apartments to VCAT on a range of matters, including breaching a rule prohibiting stays of less than 30 days.

Mr Salter, a resident of Watergate, addressed the meeting following the vote, urging an end to the legal spending.

He said his business and owners should work together without further legal action, but warned that the wider short-stay industry was behind him and would support him financially.

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