Greens demand short-stay rentals cap to ease housing crisis

The Greens will this week demand the Andrews government cap the number of days a short-stay rental property such as those on Airbnb can be leased, to help tackle the state’s mounting rental crisis.

Under the party’s proposal, the government would ban hosts from renting out entire homes for more than 90 days a year, freeing up properties for renters instead of tourists and mirroring similar caps introduced in London and Amsterdam.

Housing experts say the short-term rental market is pushing up rents in coastal tourist hotspots. Credit:Jason South

The Greens also want greater powers for owners’ corporations to regulate short-stay properties and a mandatory public register of short-stay operators. The party says the new rules would help improve record-low vacancy rates and soaring rents.

Recent data from CoreLogic showed the median cost of a rental property in Australia went up by 10 per cent in the past year, with rents in Melbourne rising 9.6 per cent. Vacancy rates across the country remain at near-record lows after a small lift to 1.17 per cent in December from a low of 1.05 per cent in November.

Gabrielle de Vietri, Victorian Greens spokesperson for renters’ rights, said the changes would free up more properties for renters and help bring down rents.

“I really hope everyone across the political spectrum realises we have to do something in this space and makes sure … renting stays affordable,” she said.

Michael Fotheringham, managing director of the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, told The Age the rental crisis was hitting would-be renters in tourism hotspots in Melbourne and regional Victoria the hardest.

“We have record-low vacancy rates, which have a knock-on effect on rents rising an extraordinary amount,” he said. “Short-term letting is particularly problematic in the tourist-focused areas, like St Kilda, the inner city and in coastal communities. If you are in a regional area and trying to run a cafe, you need staff, but they have to have somewhere to live.”

Fotheringham said while housing remained a “complex policy area”, many governments overseas and in Australia had started to regulate the short-stay accommodation sector.

In NSW, the government has introduced a 180-day cap on using empty properties for Airbnb-style letting in Sydney and other tourist hotspots. In October, the Queensland government announced an investigation into the impacts the short-term rental market was having on housing stock.

Airbnb said short-term rentals comprise “a tiny proportion of the overall property market”.

“The additional tourists being accommodated by Airbnb means more tourism dollars for local businesses such as pubs, restaurants, cafes and retailers, which in turn helps support more jobs for locals,” the company’s manager for Australia and New Zealand Susan Wheeldon said.

“Short-term rentals also provide a way for everyday people to stay afloat and combat rising costs of living and growing mortgage repayments. It’s no surprise that we’re seeing many people rely on hosting to make ends meet in the face of the current economic climate.”

Last year, Airbnb proposed that state and territory governments introduce statewide registration schemes and codes of conduct, a tourism levy to fund housing and community projects, and a review of eviction protections.

“Airbnb is keen to work together with a broad range of stakeholders and help play a part in helping to provide meaningful solutions and tackle the issue of housing supply and affordability,” Wheeldon said.

Tenants Victoria chief executive Jennifer Beveridge welcomed the Greens’ proposal and accused short-stay rental platforms of operating “like the Wild West”.

“We believe the Victorian government should, at minimum, conduct a review of the impact of short-term rental platforms on the rental housing market with a view to more regulation,” Beveridge said. “Tenants on low and – increasingly – middle incomes in the private rental market are bearing the brunt of the current renting crisis.”

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