Unlicenced short stay hosts in Broome must cease operating or face enforcement action under a new council crackdown imposed just weeks ahead of imminent state-wide controls.
The Shire of Broome issued letters to hosts this week giving them until the end of January to cease their “unauthorised short-stay accommodation” operations or face initial fines of up to $200,000.
The WA government is currently finalising its response to parliamentary committee recommendations on registration and conduct requirements for the short-stay industry and is expected to announce its own controls within the month.
Council rules prohibit the use of whole homes and apartments in Broome’s residential suburbs as holiday rentals, but hundreds of properties in the tourist town are still listed on sites such as Airbnb.
Now even those renting part of their property through home-share arrangements will need to seek approval as a bed and breakfast and comply with rules over, for example, parking and swimming pools.
The local authority has warned that if owners are convicted of an offence under the Planning and Development Act, they could be fined up to $200,000 and $25,000 for each day in the case of repeated offences.
The move has left local Airbnb hosts shocked at the tight deadline and severity of compliance requirements, but has been welcomed by commercial accommodation businesses in the town.
According to the ABC, a report by the Broome Tourism Leadership Group found that of almost 200 Airbnb listings in the town, 160 were not compliant with local laws. Of those, 78 were entire houses or apartments with no resident present.
The group estimated that during the latest tourism season, $4.29 million flowed to “non-compliant Airbnb listings”.
The group’s secretary, Michael Leake, told the national broadcaster: “People who don’t even live in the area are running properties by phone – there’s no responsibility, no accountability if something goes wrong.
“People buy a house in an area and they don’t expect the house next door to be turned into a quasi-hotel.”
Holiday rental website Stayz questioned the timing of the council’s move.
“We support the Broome shire council’s efforts to try and bring greater certainty to the short-term rental market,” corporate affairs director Eacham Curry said.
“But in the context of the parliamentary report which was brought down last year, we think it’s probably a bit premature and what we’d like to do is partner with the council to encourage the state to introduce those laws so there is consistency across the entire state.”
In a statement, the council said it was committed to ensuring health and safety standards and equity across the tourism accommodation industry.
“These landowners are potentially acting in breach of the (local planning) scheme and may also be in breach of other health requirements, particularly for swimming pools, which are in place to protect users of the facility,” he said.
“When the shire is made aware, usually through a complaint, that a residential property is being used as a holiday home, it is required to act.
“The shire has recently issued 12 letters to landowners who have been advertising their properties as a holiday home.
“All landowners were provided with the information sheet and advised of the process should they wish to seek approval for a bed and breakfast, which the shire can approve.”