Margaret River pushes for “enforceable” laws to limit WA short lets

Margaret River authorities have rejected Airbnb’s proposal for NSW-style short-stay accommodation laws, telling a WA Parliamentary Inquiry they support new powers to prosecute rogue operators.

In an approach mirrored by neighbouring City of Busselton Council, the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River has called for stricter regulations to crackdown on unregistered holiday homes.

The shire council’s submission says forced compliance through state-wide legislation will ensure hosts engage with local governments and help identify unregistered properties.

It rejects Airbnb’s favoured NSW-style model, which puts a 180-day annual limit on holiday rentals to prevent them becoming quasi-hotels, saying the policy will do little to address community concerns about the impact of short-stay listings on traditional providers.

The Shire submission encompasses many of the views promoted by the Registered Accommodation Providers Margaret River Region (RAPMRR) informal industry group, which says a boom in short stays listed on platforms such as Airbnb is seriously damaging the fortunes of traditional operators and putting guests at risk.

“The 180-day limit also fails to address externalities arising from the use, such as inadequate infrastructure (parking etc) or the management of guests,” the submission said.

 “Any regulation needs to be enforceable to be meaningful”, it argued, “particularly in this case where there is a financial incentive to avoid compliance with the regulatory framework”.

It also said state leadership was needed to enforce building and access standards across WA.

The shire last year engaged a compliance officer to begin work this on tracking down unscrupulous operators, and this week dedicated more staff to the fight following complaints of a proliferation of Airbnbs over summer.

RAPMRR spokesperson Debbie Noonan claims 150 properties were added to Airbnb in the lead-up to Christmas, taking listings above the 2200 mark.

In its submission, council acknowledged the issues of local enforcement, describing it as “difficult and resource-intensive”.

And it argued rules requiring short-stay platforms to stop “advertising illegal land use” and making a clearer distinction between hosted and unhosted properties would aid clarification and accountability.

Ms Noonan described the submission as proactive, saying: “We appreciate very much the Shire’s openness to work with our association in tackling this issue”.

Fellow RAPMRR spokesperson Robert McDonald told local media he welcomed the shire’s involvement in attempting “to ease the crisis situation that has developed for accommodation operators in our region”.

The council’s submission argues tourism, rental affordability, and residential neighbourhoods are all affected by the rise in unregistered operators.

However, RAPMRR claims that Airbnb guests don’t spend locally when they holiday in regional WA have been met with scepticism by the booking platform, Airbnb Australia’s head of public affairs Julian Crowley pointing out: “Deloitte found 53 cents in every Airbnb guest dollar in WA goes to food and retail.

“Airbnb guests spend more per day on food than they do accommodation.”

Local restaurateur Richard Moroney also rejected the idea.

“Margaret River’s economy isn’t going down the tubes because consumers have changed their spending preferences,” he told the Augusta Margaret River Times.

“Like it or not, Australia is in a recession, and consumers are looking for their dollar to go further. They are not ‘empty spenders’.

“I feel for the accommodation providers. Their market is taking a pummelling.”

The Inquiry into short-stay accommodation is set to finalise its review by mid-year.

Kate Jackson

Kate Jackson is the editor of Accomnews. You can reach her at any time with questions or submissions: [email protected]

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