Where’s the detail? Doubts remain as WA short stay plan welcomed

A report outlining WA’s plan for mandatory registration of it’s 20,000-plus short stay properties has been welcomed by the industry, but criticised for its lack of detail.

WA has joined Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales in taking steps to better monitor Airbnb-style rentals following pressure from the industry to level the regulatory playing field between traditional and gig economy providers.

The WA Economics and Industry Standing Committee has recommended the introduction of a clear definition for short-stay rentals along with registration which would require hosts to hold a valid registration number and share specific data with the government.

However, details of how the scheme will work in practice are scant.

An as-yet-unnamed government agency will work with stakeholders to develop by-laws to manage short stays in strata schemes.

The ministers for commerce, local government, tourism and planning will meanwhile be tasked with establishing an interdepartmental working group to “coordinate whole-of-government policy responses for short-stay accommodation”.

The report, tabled in state parliament on Thursday, said local councils, which are responsible for regulating short-terms rentals, have struggled to address problems in the burgeoning sector because of issues tracking down hosts.

Under the new rules, state and local government will be expected to work together on implementation, data sharing and overall management of the system, including issuing fines for non-compliance.

Committee chair Jessica Shaw told the WA parliament the regulations were designed to support council powers rather than supersede them.

“Any conditions of registration will be imposed by local government, so the existence of the registration scheme itself is intended to be incredibly light touch, it’s then for local government to determine what’s appropriate for local conditions.”

But while he acknowledged WA’s efforts to highlight “the regulatory imbalance” between short-stay rentals and other accom operators, Accommodation Association of Australia chief Dean Long expressed concern at the “considerable work” still to be done on establishing a regulatory framework.

 “While there are a range of excellent recommendations in the report, they fall short of addressing the issues around safety and amenity, with the burden largely falling on local government authorities to ensure compliance,” he argued.

“We look forward to working with the WA government on a short-term rental accommodation regulatory framework that protects both visitors, residents and ensures continued investment in tourist and visitor accommodation.”

Airbnb’s ANZ head of public policy, Brent Thomas, also welcomed the report as moving WA “one step closer to having fair and balanced rules for home sharing” but said the devil would be in the detail.

“While the committee’s report includes some sensible findings and recommendations, there are still a number of important unanswered questions,” he said.

“As with any regulation, the devil is in the details. It isn’t simple, sensible or practical to have 137 councils each having a different approach. Other states such as New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria have each introduced state-wide regulatory frameworks.”

The head of rival short-stay platform Stayz took a different view, describing the report as a “considered and comprehensive response” to the regulation of holiday rental accommodation.

Corporate affairs director Eacham Curry said: “A register of all short-term rentals will assist governments, communities and our growing industry to work together to clarify the boundaries of our sector and design effective rules that will address important questions about urban planning, amenity and infrastructure.”

Curry advocated a less-is-more approach to strata-based rentals in particular, saying: “Stayz cautions against the need for further regulation of the sector by local governments or through strata schemes.

“Rather than jumping to these additional powers, the WA government should first introduce a register and let the data that is collected point to solutions that will address concerns about amenity and urban planning.”

Leading industry bodies Tourism Accommodation Australia and the WA Australian Hotels Association welcomed the report as “a clear road map for strong and effective regulation”.

“For too long we have seen the proliferation of unregulated short-stay accommodation across Australia, however, we are now seeing a number of jurisdictions take action to regulate and bring into line short-stay accommodation platforms and the properties they list,” said TAA chief executive Michael Johnson.

“The explosion of unregulated short-stay accommodation represents a significant threat to employment opportunities within Australia’s licensed accommodation industry – a threat that will only grow if left unaddressed.”

Another vociferous campaigner for change, the Registered Accommodation Providers of the Margaret River Region, praised the committee for “listening to the people and the industry on both sides”.  

“This report will provide planning and policy makers with a road map of how to bring fairness to home sharing and how to protect small business, affordable housing and jobs in the Margaret River Region,” said spokesperson Debbie Noonan.

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