Yes, yes, yes, Minister!

We have had three Ministers for Consumer Affairs since We Live Here started its advocacy role representing apartment owners and residents five years ago.

Ms Jane Garrett, who introduced the short-stay legislation into Parliament in May 2016 had the first gig, followed by Ms Marlene Kairouz one month later, and now we have Ms Melissa Horne since last year.

The longest tenure was enjoyed by Ms Kairouz, who resigned suddenly in 2016, leaving an appalling legacy of poor decisions on short-stays.

Let’s look on the bright side. What’s better than canvassing seemingly intractable problems faced by apartment dwellers? The solutions of course! And good things come in threes. 

We have a three-part plan to present to the third Minister for Consumer Affairs, Melissa Horne, to solve a trio of enduring issues related to short-stays.

Without adequate short-stay regulation, Victoria is one of the most backward jurisdictions in Australia and indeed the world. Can our new Minister learn from the precedents established in so many cities, states and countries around the globe? It’s a serious question, and we query both the will and the capacity.

Across the Murray, the country’s largest state government has listened to residents and introduced reasonable regulations that are sadly lacking in Victoria. The NSW government has expressly recognised that short-stays can damage the fabric of a community if the market is left to run amok. Similar change is possible and overdue in Victoria.

So here is our three-point plan…

1. Review – make it happen

We Live Here was instrumental in having a formal review mandated for the Short-stay (Accommodation) Act 2018

In State Parliament four months ago, Greens MLC Dr Samantha Ratnam asked about the review, promised for 2020 and seemingly forgotten. Labor MLC Mr Leane sought some whispered advice from his minders before confirming the review “will start this year”. 

Mr Leane admitted at least one negative impact of short-stays: “I think the main concern is hiring out your place for people having big parties when other people are trying to live their lives around it.”

Remember that at the height of COVID restrictions, short-stays were banned and we had a brief respite from the worst excesses. As we emerge from COVID, the short-stay issues are returning to apartment buildings with a vengeance, escalating to knife attacks and bashings. Under the current legislation we have the ludicrous situation where, to be given a chance of insultingly paltry redress, residents would need to report three stabbing incidents in a 28-day period!

We live in a different world now, and a review is entirely appropriate. Even post-vaccination, we know we will still be faced with danger. New COVID variants will be released into our community. This government’s track record in hotel quarantine management is sorry proof that we cannot rely on it to manage potentially infectious travellers in short-stay apartments.

During the COVID restrictions, we contacted the Health Department to ask about infection control protocols for short-stays. The response was astonishing – they told us to ask Airbnb! Who is running this state?

On top of the critical COVID issue, we should be concerned about the safety and security of our residents – we have lost our “most liveable city” status courtesy of the government’s servile deference to the commercial short-stay industry.

This flimsy legislation suffers the most ignominious of indictments: it is demonstrably useless. In the three years since its enactment, there have been NO instances where an apartment building or resident has been awarded a remedy or recompense by VCAT. Zero successful cases recorded and zero penalties imposed. Double donuts!

Ms Horne, please ensure the review is genuine and allow advocacy groups including We Live Here to participate meaningfully. 

We Live Here, with a supporter base including more than 350 buildings throughout Melbourne, is a voice for reason. We believe there is a place for all the stakeholders including the tourism industry, commercial short-stay operators, platforms such as Airbnb and Stayz. For a level playing field, residents must also have an equal voice.

2. Regulations – adopt proven solutions

One extremely simple improvement is requiring short-stay operators to register. This could be readily implemented with manifold benefits, including delivering basic data on a notoriously opaque industry.

Mandatory registration, along with regulating how many days an apartment can be let as a short stay, has been adopted by countless jurisdictions, such as these:

  • Amsterdam: 30 to 90 days per year limits
  • Barcelona: A$1.2 million fines
  • Berlin: fines, 60 to 90 days per year limits 
  • Paris: A$20 million fines 
  • San Francisco: A$1500 fines, 90 days per year limit
  • Santa Monica: owner must live on the property, 14 per cent guest tax
  • UK: 90 to 140 days per year limit

Even some afflicted Victorian municipalities have assumed the role of controlling the burgeoning short-stay industry in the vacuum of authority created by the state government’s laxity. Mornington, Frankston, and Yarra Valley councils have enacted local by-laws to protect residents.

3. Rules – allow communities to decide

Another signal example of intelligence from NSW is the legislation that allows individual buildings to enact special rules, known as by-laws, to manage short-stays. This is true self-determination, the essence and intrinsic intention of most owners’ corporation legislation. 

To be effective such a framework needs to be sufficiently nuanced to prevent manipulation by proxy farming. While a little more involved, there are no insuperable obstacles to drafting good legislation that suits Victoria.

As a framework for special rules, the Owners’ Corporation Act needs to be rewritten in clear and unambiguous language. The problems pursuant to the Supreme Court decision by Riordan in 2016 must be addressed. If concomitant changes to planning laws are deemed necessary, so be it.

Campaign donations

As a not-for-profit organisation, donations from individuals and buildings keep our campaigns going. To register as a supporter of We Live Hereor to donate, please visit welivehere.net. We Live Here does not accept donations from commercial tourism interests •

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