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Queenstown Airbnb Reform a Good Start But Not Far Enough


The Proposed changes to short-term visitor accommodation rules in the Queenstown Lakes district are a good step in the right direction to ensuring affordable housing for locals and longer-term tourists.

This is certainly not an example of "nanny-state policies that will hurt its tourism economy”, as claimed by Airbnb head of public policy for Australia and New Zealand Brent Thomas in the Herald.

This move by QDC is in fact well in line with many other cities around the world suffering from the effects of rampant mass tourism. Berlin for example has similar regulations. According to City Lab Berlin now has one of the most restrictive Airbnb regulations in the world:
“On May 1, Berlin effectively banned short-stay vacation apartments. In a city where affordable housing is hard to come by, the feeling was that Airbnb and similar platforms were hogging too much space, taking what could be well over 10,000 homes off the regular rental market.”

Barcelona, another European city struggling with soaring rents resulting from ‘overtourism’ has imposed regulations on Airbnb and its competitors. The Guardian reported on this.

The potential changes in Queenstown are no more extreme than these European examples. They would not affect property owners who personally host up to five visitors in their homes. But target absentee owners or those renting their entire homes for profit. They also still allow for consent to be sought to do exactly what the law should be preventing.

Such owners would be restricted to a maximum of 28 days a year, with no more than three separate lets - a big reduction on the 90 days allowed at present without a resource consent. This allows for the casual renter to fill their house whilst on holiday but prevents people running this operation effectively as a business. That appears to be a reasonable compromise.
Council planning and development general manager Tony Avery has said the council had taken a "holistic approach" to a year-long review of the activity, and the proposed rules would provide a "much clearer framework".
Issues covered in the review included its policy, enforcement, the building code and visitor preferences.
The proposed rules, which are part of the council's district plan review, make it unlikely the owners of houses in lower-density residential areas would be granted a resource consent for letting them for more than 28 days a year.
But in town centres, higher-density residential mixed-use areas and in visitor accommodation sub-zones, property owners could exceed the 28-day, three-let limit if they received a consent.
If approved by councillors, the proposed rules will be notified on November 23 for public consultation.

Moving Forward

Such regulation should be considered by all New Zealand cities and tourism destinations. The current situation is effectively increasing inequality by favouring those wealthy enough to own property and is driving up the price of rental accommodation particularly in Auckland and Wellington.

Could such cities implement an even more restrictive law such as Berlin’s one. It may be difficult with New Zealand’s apparent addiction to property as an investment resource rather than a means of housing people. According to Citylab:

“The limitation is that Berlin and Germany’s debate over vacation apartments takes as its basis a specifically national understanding of the rights of the landlord. The idea that apartments must be places to live first and profit-making investments second is highly unusual in most countries (though owning real estate is still highly profitable in Germany), even though many governments pay the shallowest of lip-service to the idea. Laws that restricted landlords’ abilities to capitalize on their investments would thus be far harder to push through in a more landlord-friendly city such as London.”

The other issue is that Berlin’s law still appears to be only barely halting the rise of short-term rentals in the city so may not be having a huge impact. It is unclear why, but perhaps there needs to be more enforcement to ensure effectiveness.

What is clear is that housing affordability is being exacerbated by the short-term rental market and is an increasing problem in New Zealand with a huge (and growing) tourism industry. It is an issue that must be addressed on a local and national scale to ensure that the Government’s attempts to bring housing affordability into line have any chance of succeeding.


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