August 16, 2016  |  

Owners Corporations Amendment (Short-stay Accommodation) Bill 2016

MS THOMSON (Footscray) — I would firstly like to congratulate the new Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation on her elevation. I know that she will tackle this portfolio with great enthusiasm because this is an important portfolio — ensuring that we get the balance right between a deregulated market where it is open slather and that we are protecting consumers along the way and that they can be confident that when they get involved in either purchasing something, even if it is in residential tenancies or as we are talking about an owners corporation, that we have some protections in place for consumers, and I think that is really important.

I must say that I support the Owners Corporations Amendment (Short-stay Accommodation) Bill 2016 fully; I think it is an important piece of legislation. I am also pleased to know that there will be further work done on the owners corporation act because the original one is from 2006. I have very strong memories of that piece of legislation and I think that every area that we go into in this space needs to be updated. The picture of accommodation in 2006 and how people were housed has changed so drastically that it is almost unrecognisable. In 2006 a very small minority lived in apartments and a smaller number again lived in actual apartment towers compared to now, when we are seeing a great increase in the number of people who are moving into apartment-style accommodation under owners corporations. Now we are also seeing the advent of what technology means for the way in which people seek various accommodation options, so I think it is important and timely that we have another look at this piece of legislation. This is the first sway into that arena, and I commend the minister and the government for bringing it to the house.

We talk about short stays, but let us forget about the technology for a minute and think back to before we had the internet. Some people in this chamber might not even remember that, but for those of us who are a little bit older we remember a time when you might ring up and look at magazines to see what might be available by way of temporary accommodation for holidays. Sometimes you would make a huge mistake and think you were going to stay in an oasis but you would find out you were staying in a bog. But the notion was that you would take a chance, rent a place and stay there on holiday for a while. You might have stayed at a hotel if you had enough money to stay at a hotel, at the caravan park or whatever you might have chosen to do.

Move on a step, and bring technology in. It has not really made a difference in where we stay or what we do, but it has just made it that much easier. It means you can actually view photos of the property. Even if they have been fixed up a little bit with Photoshop, you still get to see a photo of the property. You also get to see the reviews, and, yes, I admit that they can sometimes be swayed too, but you do get to have some impartial reviews of what it was like to stay there. So we are seeing more flexibility in the way in which we seek out accommodation to suit our needs for the kind of holiday we may be taking.

But this comes with some problems. For the vast majority of people who use Airbnb, for instance, to seek accommodation, they are saying, ‘I am going to someone else’s home’. That is how you view it, and for a lot of Airbnb properties the owner is actually there. But for the ones where they are not, it still should be seen as someone else’s home even if they do not live there. On that basis, I would have thought that the vast majority of people think, ‘I am going to leave this place in better condition than I actually found it out of respect for the people who allowed me to let it’. That, I think, reflects the vast majority of people who stay in this type of accommodation.

However, for those party animals who think that it is great to party and not do anything about cleaning up or that it is great to party but do not care about who they disturb, we need to be doing something about them. We need to be addressing the fact that people are living closer together, and we need to show respect for one another when we live in those circumstances, which is what this legislation addresses. It is about showing respect to the other people who are staying in that accommodation for whatever reason. Whether it is another short-stay person, someone who owns the apartment or someone who rents the apartment long term, we need to show respect, and that is what this legislation is about.

It enables both tenant and resident to take action against a short-stay tenant who has done the wrong thing, as well as the owners corporation, and that was what was missing in this discussion when the member for Melbourne stood up and talked about this bill. What it does enable a resident to do is, if they have been hurt in some way or if there has been damage done by a short-term tenant, take action through the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to get compensation of up to $2000. And then the owners corporation has the right to act on its own behalf or on behalf of all of the owners and go to VCAT for civil recourse of up to $1100. So there are two avenues here through which people could address concerns, and I think it is important that we understand that component of the bill.

But it also means that they can be prohibited from actually having short-term tenants if there have been three complaints made in two years. What we are saying is, ‘Look, yes, we are dipping our toe into this space’. We have to regulate it. We are not going to make the regulation overly burdensome; we are going to make it a balanced regulation. We are going to have a look and see if this works, and if it works, then that is great. If people who are renting out these properties do the proper vetting and make sure that they have the right checks and balances, no-one is going to mind the odd party that goes to midnight or knocking on the door and saying to the neighbours, ‘Hey, look, we’re going to be having a party tonight. Do you want to come and join us?’, or, ‘We’re going to be a little bit noisy’. Be a little bit considerate of the people around you in these very intimate spaces. That is what they really are — they are intimate spaces — and we need to recognise that, and this legislation does.

What do Airbnb have to say about the bill? You would think maybe Airbnb would be opposed to it. Well, in fact, they are not, because on 23 May 2016 they welcomed the changes, saying that:

The rules allow the tens of thousands of Airbnb hosts across Victoria to get on with doing a great job of providing fabulous hospitality … while also dealing with the rare, isolated incidents of unwelcome party houses and people doing the wrong thing.

So, is technology helping us? Yes, it is. In these instances it is giving consumers the capacity to make really smart choices about where they might go on holiday, the cost of that holiday and the quality of the accommodation that they choose. Here we are saying that we think this is great technology. We have heard from a member, and I am not sure which one — it could have been the member for Sunbury — who raised the issue of how many jobs are generated by this sector. It is an important sector to Victoria. We do have to have a number of options available to those tourists who are coming in droves to visit Victoria because it is such a great state to visit. It is a great state to live in, and it will continue to be a great state to live in so long as we continue to offer a balance of accommodation options for those who live here permanently and for those who come to visit.

This is a balanced piece of legislation. It gives an opportunity for owners corporations to live in peace and for the residents within them to live in peace and harmony, we would hope, and it also gives an opportunity for those coming to Melbourne and Victoria for the very first time, or maybe as repeat visitors, to see the very best that Melbourne has to offer, to have a great time and to do so in an environment where they can feel like they are at home, because we want all those people who come and visit Melbourne and Victoria to feel that if they are not going to move here, then this is certainly going to be their second home. I commend the bill to the house.