Airbnb not affecting rental prices in Sydney, according to new report

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Sydney’s tenants are not greatly affected by increased rents in Sydney because of the spread of Airbnb, according to a new report from the Tenants Union of NSW.

Neither are they seeing a great reduction of housing stock, even in areas where Airbnb is most active, the report said.

However, the Tenants Union, an independent advisory service for renters, has called on the state government, in its impending plans to regulate short-term letting, to restrict short-term lets that total more than 60 nights per year.

And it says tenants should be allowed the same rights as owner-occupiers to lease a room or their entire home for a short period.

“Now is a good time to introduce a sensible regulatory regime which balances a reasonable use of short-term lets with the potential impact of tourists on our communities,” says Leo Patterson Ross, Advocacy and Research Officer at Tenants’ Union of NSW, and one of the authors of the report Belonging anywhere: Airbnb and renting in Sydney.

The report claims that Sydney’s already-high rents and the comparative ease with which landlords can evict tenants and increase rents may make a switch to holiday lets less worth their efforts.

“Australia has some of the weakest tenancy laws in the world, with landlords facing little to constrain their ability to maximise rents and capital gains,” says the report.

“Our message to tenants is that Airbnb is not increasing your rent – but your landlord might be,” says Mr Ross. “The way some landlords use Airbnb is a symptom of a broken housing system, not the cause of it.”

The report’s authors say they don’t believe renting properties on Airbnb or other sites for a few nights has any meaningful impact on housing supply.

A spokesman for Airbnb said: “Airbnb was founded on the issue of housing affordability for renters, and we support the overwhelming majority of recommendations in the Tenants’ Union Report.”

However, the Tenants Union is concerned that increased use of Airbnb could encourage landlords in holiday areas to move tenants out for the summer season so they can make more money.

“Landlords in holiday areas have been doing this for years. Tenants are moved out so that the properties can be run as a holiday lets at much higher rents,” says Mr Ross.

“The difference now is that Airbnb makes it a lot easier and there are some who might not have considered it before. Also there are agencies that use Airbnb to make sure their properties are vacant as little as possible.”

AirDNA, a website that provides information and advice for Airbnb hosts, told Fairfax Media that a holiday letting agency called L’Abode Accommodation is Airbnb’s single largest “host” with 150 properties listed.

The report is based on figures up to September 2016 from “data scraping” websites AirDNA and, to a lesser extent, Inside Airbnb, along with government data on private rental rates and bonds, occupancy rates and housing projections.

It reveals that last year around $160 million was paid by Airbnb guests in NSW, with $130 million of that for entire homes.

The report calls for further study into tenant evictions, specifically renters who are being thrown out so that homes can be converted to short-term lets, and the long-term impact of Airbnb on the way Sydney houses itself.

“We particularly encourage academia to negotiate the release of data directly from Airbnb themselves,” it says.

The report also demands changes to the “no grounds” termination of leases, so that it is harder for landlords to switch back and forth between residential and holiday letting.

“So long as regulations protect the rights of house and apartment owners to share the homes they live in, we’re supportive of steps which discourage Sydney properties from being used exclusively for short term rentals in urban Sydney,” the Airbnb spokesman said, adding “we’re open to a solution that treats investment properties differently to primary residences.”

The report has met with a mixed response, particularly from campaigners against the spread of holiday lets in Sydney’s apartments.

“Using borrowed data of untested scientific merit is a poor basis upon which to conclude short-term letting has not impacted upon the Sydney rental market,” says Stephen Goddard, spokesman for apartment owners organisation the Owners Corporation Network.