Assault on Airbnb faces owner backlash

Alia and Tim Hill, who hope to sell their Noosa home, fear the rental crackdown could deter buyers. Picture: Paul Smith
Alia and Tim Hill, who hope to sell their Noosa home, fear the rental crackdown could deter buyers. Picture: Paul Smith

A crackdown on an Airbnb-led explosion of holiday rentals in Noosa is a discriminatory assault on the rights of property owners, Queensland Law Society has warned.

Noosa Shire Council this month passed arguably Australia’s toughest restrictions on the online short-term rental market, dominated by Airbnb and Stayz. The move was in response to complaints from permanent residents about “party houses”.

Under the changes awaiting state government approval, owners of properties in “low-density areas’’, including oceanfront Noosa Heads, who want to list on the websites must apply for ­approval.

Properties rented out in the past can continue to be listed, even if they are sold, under a “use it or lose it” provision requiring they are let out at least once a year. Apartments and town­houses in medium- and high-­density areas are not affected.

Queensland Law Society president Bill Potts said he shared the concerns of property owners that it was discriminatory and could skew values.

He said he believed the scheme could face a legal challenge. “Is this a fair system for homeowners? The answer is no. People have a right to utilise their property whichever way they want to,” Mr Potts said.

“It certainly does create a two-tier system.

“Rules ought to apply across the board or, in this particular case, at least a rule that sees an equal opportunity for ­homeowners to lease out their properties.

“The old saying is that every person’s house is their own castle, and they can utilise it whichever way they wish.”

The city plan is currently with Queensland Planning Minister Cameron Dick for approval.

If approved, the changes will be introduced alongside a council law aimed at creating a code of conduct governing short-term rentals.

The code is yet to be drafted, but is expected to address issues such as properties being hired for parties.

Noosa Mayor Tony Wellington defended the crackdown, saying the council was responding to community concerns about the rise of “party houses’’ and “over-tourism’’.

“We can’t be adding tourist beds at the expense of residents, which is the fundamental purpose of what we’re approaching in the planning scheme,’’ Mr Wellington said.

“When tourist accommodation takes over in residential housing areas, residents no longer know their neighbours, they no longer feel as safe.

“The notion that we’re taking away people’s rights is really a nonsense because every planning scheme zones every piece of land.

“Homeowners have never been allowed to do exactly what they want.’’

Small business owners Alia and Tim Hill, aged 34 and 35, built their home in Noosa Heads eight years ago and it has never been rented short-term.

They are now hoping to sell at auction in the new year, but are worried prestige buyers from Sydney and Melbourne might be turned off if they are unable to use the home for short-term stays.

“It’s very concerning,” Ms Hill said. “I’m really surprised they have done this.

“I had heard a little about this but did not know anything had been passed until we went to sell.

“I thought there would have been more community ­consultation.

“If they take away that right, it might be harder for us to sell.”

Real estate agent Adrian Reed said prestige property buyers were often after homes they could let to holiday-makers.

While acknowledging the need for greater regulation, he ­believed the council’s approach was a step too far.

“Other areas are facing these same issues — we didn’t even get a chance to try and mediate with local law before they (council) ­deployed the more heavy-handed option,” Mr Reed said.

“When you make these changes, you are removing these buyers from the market. That is the concern.”

Airbnb national head of public policy Derek Nolan said the company was willing to work with local and state governments to ensure guests and hosts acted ­responsibly.

Noosa has long been a luxury holiday destination for holiday-makers looking to escape from Sydney and Melbourne. The shire received more than two million visitors last financial year and they contributed more than $1.1bn to the local economy.