26 Oct 2017

Unanimous council support for Queenstown housing developments

From Checkpoint, 6:23 pm on 26 October 2017

Property owners in Queenstown cashing in on Airbnb may soon face tighter restrictions aimed at freeing up housing.


Queenstown has some of the most expensive housing in the country. Photo: 123.rf

It is one of several measures Queenstown Lakes District Council will adopt to tackle spiralling housing unaffordability.

The council unanimously agreed yesterday to a tranche of measures recommended by the mayoral housing affordability taskforce to tackle the issue.

Airbnb now accounts for 14 percent of visitor accommodation in Queenstown Lakes District, according to the taskforce's report.

Average house prices in Queenstown eclipsed Auckland's last year to be the nation's highest on average, topping more than $1 million in December.

Taskforce chair, councillor John MacDonald, said the council needed to create measures to incentivise long-term rentals over short-term options such as Airbnb.

Airbnb accounted for 270,000 visitor nights in the district in the 10 months to July.

'People are now funding mortgages off Airbnb, so we can't go and ban it' - Queenstown councillor

The website-based system for hiring out accommodation had helped handle massive visitor growth in the area, but also meant 2700 houses had been removed from the rental market, Mr MacDonald said.

"It is having an effect on those long-term rentals and we certainly know of properties that have dropped out of that long-term rental market," he said.

The sector was "terribly difficult" to regulate but it was apparent that current measures were failing.

"You can have 90 days of Airbnb rentals and then after that it goes to a different rate [at present]," he said.

"We are totally reliant on people's honesty with that because there's no way we can possibly know how many nights they have rented their house."

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Photo: AirbnB

The increase in Airbnb accommodation had presented a circular problem with more visitors meaning more service workers in the hospitality, tourism and community sectors, which added further pressure to the rental market.

Queenstown Lakes would not be alone in regulating Airbnb accommodation, as cities around the world including New York, Barcelona and Reykjavik, already had controls in place such as restricting short-term apartment rentals of less than 30 days. Some cities employed enforcement officers. 

The taskforce recommended a review of the council's controls of the sector.

Simplifying the current system and enforcing the measures was key, Mr MacDonald said.

"You have to have rules that are easily understood and enforceable because if they aren't enforceable or monitorable then there's no point in having them."

The new regulatory regime would not occur overnight and it might be two years or longer before the controls came into force, he said.

"It isn't a quick fix, and we aren't going to come out and stop people using properties for Airbnb - I don't think that's realistic at all.

"People are now funding mortgages off Airbnb, so we can't go and ban it." 

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