Until we sort it out, Airbnb will bring out the worst in some people


Short-stay behemoth Airbnb began with the idea of people renting out extra space in their houses to make a bit of extra money to cover living costs, as well as to meet people from around the world. However, this idealistic beginning is now far from the reality for a company that is now worth somewhere in the vicinity of $30 billion.

A house trashed by short-stay renters.
A house trashed by short-stay renters.

Photo: The Age

There are many reasons why people choose short-term stay platforms – they can be far cheaper than hotels, they have cooking facilities and they sleep more people than your average hotel room.

I use these booking platforms myself and I am not arguing for them to be banned completely, but there is a serious need for much stricter regulation.

Pressure for change grew sharply last week after the death of Melbourne woman Laa Chol in a Airbnb rented property. Residents of that building, which has dozens of short-stay apartments, have myriad stories of altercations, parties, emergency services callouts and property destruction the likes of which you can hardly believe.

In Melbourne, Inside Airbnb figures suggest over 42 per cent of listings are placed by landlords with more than one property. It is clearly no longer a traditional home-share experience but has morphed into big business for those lucky enough to be able to afford multiple properties and who are happy to leave it to chance as to the treatment the building receives.

The element of trust that is involved in inviting strangers into your home is much easier to manage when you live there, and visitors behave accordingly. The problems come when the property owner isn’t present and can’t be contacted by understandably irate neighbours dealing with loud parties or pools of vomit.

There are also concerns about the pressure placed on the availability and affordability of long-term rentals. In large cities, property owners are drawn to short-term stays because they can make a higher income, however these higher rates also drive up the price of long-term rents. It also reduces the pool of properties in a market where it is already difficult to find a place to live. In holiday towns, workers in low-paid industries, such as hospitality, can find it almost impossible to find a rental as a result. If you can’t house the staff for the cafes and shops, your holiday destination falls apart, eventually.

After hearing stories from residents in affected areas such as the Mornington Peninsula, I re-evaluated my own booking habits. I now try to stay in places where the owners actually live there – returning it to a human transaction rather than a solely financial one.

New York City and several other cities around the world are requiring Airbnb to provide contact lists to local councils for people listing properties. Interestingly, Airbnb sees this as a gross breach of privacy – but they don’t seem concerned about the privacy of neighbouring tenants who are suffering.

Some cities are limiting the number of nights certain properties can be let per year and are allowing body corporates to vote on whether short-term rentals are allowed in their buildings –suburban streets should be given the same option too. Governments could limit people to one short-term rental property. Police and councils should have increased rights to step in and close down properties that have track records of bad rentals. It should be a privilege, not a right, to operate.

A friend who rents out an investment property through a short-term stay platform had a phone call from police in the lead-up to last year’s schoolies period. They had apparently been monitoring the area and had discovered that his property was going to be the location for the “party of the year”. He was understandably horrified and was counselled to cancel the booking, which he did. Luckily for him he had forewarning. This is not possible for every situation and it is the locals who are left to deal with the fallout from badly behaved guests.

Which seems to be the main issue with the whole short-term rental platform and possibly for current society as a whole – that some people seem to have lost any form of respect and civility. Instead they think it is acceptable to behave like louts, particularly when on holiday. So now their disgraceful behaviour is going to spoil the entire industry of short-term rentals for everyone else who uses it properly.

Like any new technology, short-term rental platforms will reach a peak and then regulations will be brought in to control them better and we will hopefully find a workable new equilibrium. However, sadly, I expect we will continue to meet yobs in all sorts of places (we camped next to a few in the Grampians) until we work out a way to bring back good behaviour as the norm.