For several years now, we've been concerned about the growing proportion of residential homes - both apartments and free-standing houses - being converted into short-term accommodation.
Increasingly in Queensland, we’re seeing more and more buildings that have been assessed and approved by council as normal residential homes, and were not designed as hotels/short-term accommodation, which are now being rented out by investors through platforms like Airbnb, or by hotel booking companies. In many cases, these companies manage a selection of apartments within a building like hotel rooms, but don't actually own the building and don't pay much attention to the needs and views of the long-term residents who also live in the building (or in surrounding properties).
This conversion of residential homes into short-term accommodation is particularly prevalent in areas with lots of tourist attractions, such as the Sunshine and Gold Coasts, but it's also increasingly common in inner-city neighbourhoods such as around South Bank, and in proximity to major transport hubs. This phenomenon can have a range of negative impacts in terms of safety, sense of community, insurance premiums and body corporate fees.
In Queensland, there are different rules for how apartments (or houses) should be designed if they are being used as short-term accommodation as opposed to long-term residential. For example, you need more emergency signage and clearer fire exit routes for short-term accommodation uses, because short-term tenants won’t know the building as well. Short-term accommodation land uses should also be closer to public transport services and shops, rather than tucked away on residential streets that aren't easily accessible for people carrying a lot of baggage.
A building that has been designed as standard residential accommodation shouldn’t really be used for short-term rentals. For neighbouring apartment residents, higher-intensity hotel-style usage tends to create more wear and tear on common property like elevators, pools etc, and those maintenance costs are borne by the body corporate (and ultimately the residents). We’re also seeing situations where apartments in places like South Bank and Kangaroo Point are rented out for disruptive parties every single night of the week, without any consultation with neighbours.
Conversion impacts Housing affordability
This also creates a broader economic problem, because apartments which were originally approved to house local residents are instead rented out to visitors and tourists, which means local families find it harder to afford a home in the inner-city. So even though the supply of apartments increases, that doesn’t improve affordability for locals, because more of those apartments are Airbnb-style short-term accommodation.
(A flow-on social impact is that we can’t create the well-connected high-density local communities and break down social isolation, because such a large proportion of homes are just short-term visitors.)
The underlying problem here is that in our economic system, homes are being treated as a commodity to make a profit from, rather than protecting housing as a basic human right. Investors who rent out entire homes as hotel rooms don’t always care about the impact on neighbours – they just want to make money.
If some homes in a building or street are being rented out short-term for thousands of dollars per week, this also puts upward pressure on both land values and rents for other homes in the surrounding area.
But when residents complain to council, and say “Hey, this building was approved as residential but now it’s being rented out as short-term accommodation” it seems Brisbane City Council isn’t taking appropriate action. In some cases, council takes no action at all. In other cases, BCC investigates and then says “Well even though this building wasn’t designed as short-term accommodation, it was built on land where you are technically allowed to build short-term accommodation, so we’re going to look the other way.” Basically, council knows that some unit owners, developers and property managers are breaking council regulations, but isn’t doing anything about it.
Crucially, a body corporate's building insurance cover can be voided if the usage of a building hasn’t been complying with council rules.
So for example, if a body corporate hasn’t been keeping an area free of flammable debris, and that leads to fire damage, the insurance company might refuse to pay out. Similarly, if a residential building is being illegally rented out as short-term accommodation, and the guests accidentally leave a tap on that leads to other apartments being flooded, the insurance company could have strong legal grounds for refusing to pay out.
So all this adds up to a pretty big issue, where building insurance cover for hundreds of buildings around the state is under question.
With an Olympics planned for 2032, there's a high risk that more and more inner-city homes will be converted into short-term accommodation. This pattern has been observed in most other cities that have hosted the Olympics, and evidence suggests that once these homes are converted into short-stay, many do not revert to residential homes after the event is open.
The action that council needs to take is two-pronged:
- BCC needs to stop issuing development approvals that allow a building to be used for short-term accommodation unless the building has been properly designed to safely accommodate high numbers of short-term visitors.
- BCC needs to fully investigate complaints of unapproved short-term uses, and take enforcement action where investors are running hotel operations in buildings that don’t have any approval as short-term accommodation.
For areas that will be most attractive to short-term visitors in the lead-up to the Olympics, localised regulations may be needed to prevent the wholesale conversion of residential homes into short-term accommodation.
We need to have a broader community conversation about how much of our neighbourhoods we are happy to see turn into short-term hotel-style accommodation...
Do we want entire suburbs like Woolloongabba, South Brisbane and Kangaroo Point to be majority short-term visitors where no-one knows one another? Or do we want to strike a better balance where we have enough options for tourists and visitors, but there are still enough longer-term residents to maintain a stronger sense of local community?
Noosa Shire Council has recently decided to introduce very strict regulations on AirBnB properties, and it will be interesting to see how these work in practice. Personally I'd like to see a similar approach here in Brisbane.
I don’t have strong concerns about residents who rent out a spare room via Airbnb to subsidise their rent, or about people who temporarily sublease their home while they go on holiday for a few weeks or months.
But that’s very different to a situation where no-one on a low income can afford to live in inner-city suburbs, because all the new investor-owned apartments have been rented out on Airbnb on an ongoing basis.