31 Aug 2016

Apartment owners upset with Airbnb rentals

6:08 pm on 31 August 2016

The peer-to-peer renting company Airbnb could be on a collision course with some apartment dwellers who do not want its guests in their buildings.

Airbnb logo

Photo: AFP

Airbnb allows travellers to stay short-term in private homes, often for a lower price than at a hotel.

Some apartment owners object to neighbours leasing their flats to a series of short-term - and possibly noisy and unruly - visitors.

They are putting pressure on committees that run apartment buildings to change the rules and ban Airbnb from their buildings, but this could run into legal problems.

The Body Corporate Chairs' Group deals with issues like this and its national chairman, Neil Cooper, has had several complaints.

"Because of Airbnb having potentially a nightly turnover, there is a risk of [guests showing] less care for a building," he said.

"So some body corporates are moving to limit the rights of owners to set up that sort of enterprise."

Mr Cooper's organisation is planning a seminar on short-term rentals next month.

Auckland's Strata Community Association is a professional body similar to the Body Corporate Chairs' Group.

Its president, Joanne Barreto, said New Zealand had to act before it experienced the kind of security problems that developed in Australia.

She said there were situations where six or seven lock boxes containing keys sometimes sat outside a building for Airbnb customers.

"People can break into these lock boxes, get access to a swipe card and a key and get access to an entire building and no-one knows who they are," she said.

Ms Barreto said another problem occurred in Sydney, where people took a flat through Airbnb, posed as the owner of the property, leased it several times over and ran off with the bond money.

However, Airbnb said it was not doing anything wrong.

It said a review system for both hosts and guests after a stay in a home would bring to light any problems and anyone causing trouble would be removed.

Airbnb also has insurance protection and is very popular in New Zealand, with 16,000 registrations.

This has not stopped one Wellington property manager from telling apartment owners in a building she administers that they should not rent out their property on Airbnb.

But she said this was not a formal policy, and she had doubts as to whether it would stand up in court.

Ms Barreto had similar concerns over the viability of a ban on Airbnb.

"Until it's tested in court, we are not going to know what boundaries we can put," she said.

"I am aware of body corporates who are already changing their operational rules so that Airbnb either can or can't be used in a building.

"But there are concerns that if [Airbnb hosts] are acting within legal requirements and complying with zoning, then there is no legal way you can enforce [a ban]."

A legal test of Airbnb has already been through the courts in Australia.

Residents of a waterfront complex in Melbourne spent $AU100,000 in legal fees trying to keep Airbnb out of their building - and they failed.

Despite this, Ms Barreta said it was a problem that had to be faced.

She said for most people, their home was their biggest asset and should be protected by firm fair regulations.