Short stay body slates “onerous” fire rules as Airbnb champions safety

A leading short stay association says NSW’s plans to regulate the industry include fire safety standards which are overly restrictive and make compliance too expensive.

The Australian Short Term Rental Association (ASTRA) says the state government’s draft fire safety standard, part of a package of short stay reforms likely to become law in 2019, will have a significant impact on the number of properties listed across NSW because it is “onerous”.

“It is inflexible in not recognising compliant ten-year battery-operated smoke detectors. Many owners will find the compliance too expensive,” said ASTRA in a response to the draft plans.

“There is no evidence that short term rental accommodation poses any greater fire risk than any other complying residential use.” 

The response coincides with Airbnb’s rollout of a new online community safety hub, a collaboration with Crime Stoppers Australia, Surf Life Saving Australia, Kidsafe Australia and the Centre for Internet Safety putting safety and security at the heart of its agenda.

The home share giant, due to list publicly on the stock market next year, has collated advice about water safety, responsible use of the internet and security checklists on the new hub. It also includes a law enforcement portal designed to help police and emergency services track legal requests and gain speedy access to status updates and email notifications.

Brent Thomas, Airbnb’s head of public policy for APAC, said: “Negative incidents are rare on our platform but even one incident is one too many, so we want to be a responsible player and ensure that everyone (guest, host and neighbour) stays safe.”

A series of November safety workshops in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane will feature representatives from each of the collaborators discussing how hosts can take to better equip guests with safety information and resources.

As Airbnb has grown, the short stay sector and government regulators have come in for sustained criticism by individuals and industry bodies for their failure to protect guests’ safety and privacy.

Now government’s around the world are looking to regulate the sector by bringing safety requirements into line with those of traditional accom providers.

“This is a global initiative that helps us act as a good corporate citizen,” Mr Thomas said.

“All requests for user information will be handled and evaluated in line with our existing terms of service, privacy policy and law enforcement guidelines, so that will protect our guests and hosts but also allow agencies to do their jobs.

“There is always a balance. We are built on trust and I think our hosts and guest would expect us to work constructively with law enforcement agencies.”

As part of that global tightening of regulations around short stay, the push by NSW to see the sector covered by a new fire safety standard has been supported by leading accommodation representative bodies.

Accommodation Association of Australia CEO Dean Long welcomed draft plans “elevating fire and safety standards for those operating in the unregulated accommodation industry”.

And Tourism Accommodation Australia chief Michael Johnson said: “No matter where tourists stay, they should be able to rest assured that their accommodation adheres to minimum health and safety requirements.”

While it disagrees with the stringency of the proposed fire requirements, ASTRA has also generally welcomed NSW’s move to regulate the industry, saying it “provides clarity and settles any dispute about the legitimacy of short-term rental accommodation in a residential dwelling”.

Minimum standards which ensure properties are safe and compliant and “properly focuses attention on irresponsible behaviour management” are welcome changes, according to the short stay body.

“In principle, ASTRA supports the government’s concern for safe premises but believes it should consider real risk as opposed to conjecture,” it said of the fire safety standard.

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