A grumpy cat to grab your attention – nice! So which side of the fence are you on? We’re all a little grumpy about the impending rules and regulations to be thrust upon our niche short term accommodation sector in Australia.

Let’s face it…most owners managers in the niche short term accommodation rental sector in Australia have known they have largely been flying under the radar. Only recently has Government realised how many exist and what benefit, and impact, they have on the economy and community amenity. And I’m not just talking about the Australian Government. This is high profile global stuff we’re talking about here.

The challenges differ in each unique tourism region in Australia too. Particularly if you compare high density grouped dwelling stays with regional Australia. There are supply concerns in larger cities which is supposedly driving the price of residential accommodation through the roof and other quieter seaside tourist meccas that demand more tourist accommodation – so short term fills that void. Some cities are in a recession, others are booming!

Let’s not play the blame game though and point the finger at collaborative consumption trends and savvy digital booking platforms. The reality is that more and more travellers are seeking out an authentic and culturally enriching travel experience and booking portals and OTA’s have made that possible as they do generate bookings – we can thank Stayz as the online booking, remote owner management pioneers in Australia. We also know the world has been a little scary since major world events and well the fact is mostly there is little money to indulge in interstate or international travel. This means the traveller is looking for a bargain.

We also know the world has been a little scary since major world events and well the fact is mostly there is little money to indulge in interstate or international travel. This means the traveller is looking for a bargain.

Holiday homes have always existed. My peers and I have always stayed in holiday rentals over hotels. I’ve never really understood the appeal of staying in a stuffy hotel room. I prefer space and fresh air and a homely experience plus it means a group of us can bunker down together, share meals and time together and not pay ridiculous prices for buffet breakfasts that many don’t front up for, for whatever reason…big night, slept in, preferred to support the local seaside cafe.

We haven’t needed the fluffy slippers or the dressing gown (most probably manufactured and owned by an international), the newspaper under our door or the revolutionary wake up call or $15 plus movies. Funnily enough we can access most of this fluffy stuff (minus the dressing gown – who actually wears those anyway?) from our smart phones.

Times have changed. We are more tech savvy, bargain savvy – because of technology giving us choice and price comparison.

Because times are changing though we are sharing our things more, our spaces. More and more savvy people who have a bit of spare space are listing their properties as a whole house or room for rent in the short term accommodation rental market. Yes, it’s been happening and a tradition in Australia for many many years. The reality is inventory is now huge and that is because consumers have changed the way they travel and set a demand for such an experience.

Right so now you have the background. In the wake of a number of Government enquiries into short term accommodation rental regulations in Australia I have these thoughts;

Noise

Start with Noise Abatement legislation. Think about parties. If you are throwing a party in your street you would usually consult your neighbours? If not, you would probably hold your head in shame and knock on their doors the next day and hand them a bottle of Moet – yes I’ve done this before – actually I sent my husband over! As long as you’re not doing this regularly then I am sure you will not be rejected by your neighbourhood.

These neighbours have children, or elderly parents or have to get up and work every day. These people need at least 7/8 hours sleep. I know if I don’t get enough sleep I will get grumpy and if it happens all the time then I will take action and believe me this is why the sector is under the microscope and why you are a contributor to tighter regulations to control such rogue operations.

The fact is there are laws that protect neighbourhood amenity. This means a certain noise level is acceptable. Go over that you will make your neighbours grumpy and they have the right to call the Police. First and foremost you must educate yourself on acceptable noise or just use your common sense and educate your guests to behave.

Parking

The same applies for parking. It would be very helpful and proactive to tell your guests how many car parking spaces there are and that it is not ok to park on the neighbours lawn. Seriously if you are operating and not being mindful of your neighbours then education (for managers and guests) should be considered an important piece of the puzzle.

Group Dwelling & Other Zoning Restrictions

While I don’t think group dwellings are suitable for short term rentals I do think that every owner/ manager should have the opportunity to give it a go. If they disrupt their amenity or rip anyone off then they will naturally have to shut down their operation.

Owners Corporations should only have the power to enforce the rules and regulations not set them.

Zoning restrictions are irrelevant.

House Size & Numbers

House size is irrelevant.

Restricted numbers fair enough but only in terms of health and safety. I realise that overcrowing creates a risk of noisy parties but mostly we are talking about groups of friends or families who just want to crash together to keep the cost low. Noise controls should do just that – control the noise. It’s common sense isn’t it?!

License – Education for Owners & Guests

Management of a short term rental accommodation is a whole lot of hard work. I know this because I have owner managed with my own investment properties and I’ve been up close with managers of multiple properties. If we are to give our visitors a fantastic experience then we need to take this seriously and do it properly. There has to be some sort of license that involves education that links to rules and regulations. It is absolutely necessary and has been a long time coming.  It forces the rogue operators out of the shadows and weeds them out as they fail to play by the rules.

Trust accounting is a pain in the behind -mostly I think it is necessary – but may requires a relook and rejig as many aspects of it generate a lot of extra work for managers. It’s something that needs to be tabled for further discussion that is for sure.

Tax is tax. Income is income. You earn an income you decide whether you declare it or. You don’t, you risk getting in trouble. That is on you. I really cannot see the difference and if the ATO are worried they are missing out on income they maybe they need to introduce a requirement for an ABN of sorts. Maybe an AMBN (Australian Micro Business Number). I don’t really know. It’s not been a concern for me because I have always claimed the income from my short term accommodation rental ventures in Australia.

Grumpy Neighbours – Where is Your Voice?

If you are not a stakeholder, other than an irate neighbour of a rogue operation, then I am sorry on behalf of the industry that you are located in such proximity to a lesser human being. One that is spoiling it for the rest of the industry. My advice is write to your local government authority and consider constructive suggestions on how your life may be made easier. Also I urge you to consider the benefits. Firstly you may have a skill to offer the manager that might earn you some income (caretaker, cleaner, guest experience etc), it’s also good to have someone in the house rather than it sitting vacant and you can never tell if your residential neighbour is going to behave either. We never knew we’d be renting next to a barking dog for six months when we relocated out of the City. Yep a barking dog. A relentlessly loud barking puppy who missed it parents every time they walked out the door, including through the night, when they went out of town. Yes, that made me grumpy.

Think about all those lovely visitors staying in your community and spending money to boost your economy.  This is happening. This is really truly happening especially if the managers of the holiday rentals are going out of their way to speak with local tourism operators and offering guests a special deal.

Managers Present & On Call 24/7

Managers must be on call 24/7. You might have the convenience of key locks and avoid the face to face meet and greet. Fair enough. If you are not available to take a call in the event of an emergency or because the kettle isn’t working (which I think is an emergency) then you should not be managing a property. Sure, appoint a caretaker but that person should be registered and available.

Insurance & Risk Management

If you do not have insurance that is your prerogative but for the safety of guests opting to consume holiday rental accommodation I think it is overall a good practice. It means someone has actually assessed your home, identified areas of concern (ie a balcony that is about to collapse) and decided whether it is safe for guests and if not, what is required to bring it up to an acceptable standard. I do believe consumers will be looking out for accredited style accommodations knowing they are safe when staying in the property. If not, there is an understanding that home style accommodation comes with risk just the same as if you crashed in your friends 50 year old granny flat. I actually cannot understand why any manager would operate without the necessary checks and insurances. Maybe they do not understand how many thousands of dollars they may be out of pocket should someone be injured or possibly die in their property. Yes – it happens!!!

Fair Rules & Regulation

Fair rules and regulations and engagement and education with grass roots stakeholders are on the only way forward in my opinion. Knee jerk reactions will hurt this growing sector which is in demand. It is counter productive.

Stakeholders Working Together

Local government and local tourism organisations must work with short term accommodation rental stakeholders. Not against them. This includes allowing for booking systems that integrate with the managers own independent calendar. Visitor centres must not consider accommodation and experiences as a source of income. It is working against all tourism operators.

Owners/ Managers Come Out Of The Shadows – Out From Under The Radar

All owners must come out from the shadows and have a voice. Fly that flag and say yes I have a short term accommodation rental and I want to continue working closely with my local stakeholders to learn how to best operate. If you think that remaining silent will help your cause you are absolutely incorrect. That is in fact why a number of enquiries are being damaged because there isn’t enough input from the actual owners and managers of these properties because they are worried they will be shut down. The reality is you will be shut down unless you can convince your worth to your local people, most importantly your local community.

Code of Conduct

Yes there is a Code of Conduct introduced by the Holiday Rental Industry Association. We hope all stakeholders, especially those on the grass roots, have a chance to provide some input on any future reviews. Let’s also hope there is an education program attached to it that is endorsed and promoted by local government.

My closing message is that it is vitally important to understand that you as the owner/ manager of a holiday rental accommodation business in Australia are the most important stakeholder group. Think of global booking portals and OTA’s as a means of finding guests. They can certainly contribute their thoughts and opinions, that will protect their own bottom lines, from their own perspective. It is you at the coal face that really knows what is going on and who is well placed to contribute ideas and better ways of going about business.

Always strive for independent management for sustainability and only list your properties with booking portals and OTA’s who allow integration with your own management technology and systems. Aim for direct bookings through your own independent systems and remarketing to your own guest database.

Ok so let’s all wait and see what happens with the individual state and territory Enquiries. It’s going to be an interesting year ahead.

If you are a niche short term rental accommodation industry stakeholder in Australia you might be interested in connecting with me on Linked In. I have a group discussion in place for Short Term Rental Accommodation Legislation & Local Laws.

If you’d like to learn more I am currently drafting a guide/ publication for managers and other short-term or holiday rental accommodation stakeholders. Subscribers will receive a discount when it becomes available later in 2018.

Have a superb day!

Cheers

Natalie 🙂

Subsequent news stories since the first publication date of this editorial (30/3/2017);

Balcony collapse in Brisbane suburb of St Lucia leaves nine in hospital

Travel giant Expedia joins campaign for crackdown on Airbnb rentals

The ‘booming’ NSW economy that 100,000 people have joined

Winners and losers – the five main options for proposed NSW Airbnb laws