Rotorua BnB host says rates hike for holiday rental owners 'beggars belief'

5:02 pm on 7 May 2024
Kerris Brown talks about proposed rates change for Airbnb. Photo / Andrew Warner

Kerris Browne is unhappy with proposed changes for short-term accommodation providers. Photo: Andrew Warner

A Rotorua bed and breakfast owner says a council plan targeting holiday rental homes "beggars belief" as some hosts face rates increases of 180 per cent.

Rotorua Lakes Council says it's a "real issue" given Rotorua's housing shortage and short-term accommodation owners needed to pay their "fair share".

After confusion over how the policy would be applied, the council has acknowledged it could have explained more clearly and says it has had more than 70 queries after sending 912 letters to potentially impacted ratepayers.

The council's draft Long-Term Plan 2024-24 proposed to charge commercial rates to properties advertised as short-term rentals at least 60 days per year. This previously only applied to such properties occupied at least 100 days a year.

From 1 July, hosts would also pay a business and economic development targeted rate under the proposal.

The document estimated the changes could generate $900,000 a year for the council. It did not include other policy criteria but the council has clarified it was aimed at properties used solely for short-term rentals and not homeowners renting part of their home, like a bedroom.

Mayor Tania Tapsell told a public meeting last month it had been difficult to find a balance between casual hosts covering their mortgage and those collecting "very significant profits".

Tania Tapsell

Mayor Tania Tapsell is defending the new policy. Photo: LDR / Laura Smith

But Rotorua host Kerris Browne told Local Democracy Reporting she did not believe this balance was struck.

She hosted guests in the four spare bedrooms of her family home, as well as a detached tiny home in the backyard.

After she received a notification letter and queried the new policy, she said she learned at a public meeting it was her tiny home that made her property eligible for commercial rates.

Browne said the space, which had a kitchen and toilet, was occupied for 37 percent of nights in the 12 months to April.

"And for that I'm going to pay an extra $5000 a year."

Kerris Browne's tiny home visitor rental

Kerris Browne's tiny home visitor rental in her backyard. Photo: LDR

Browne's property's rates would increase 103.67 percent to a total of $8658.83 excluding GST. Others in the district, Local Democracy Reporting found, faced a 187 percent rise, totalling more than $20,000 for one.

She said being rated as a commercial property "beggars belief" and she could not see how what she did compared to commercial premises.

"We don't mind the empty months, as this is only our top-up to help the mortgage, not a commercial entity."

Hosts like herself offered tourists a different experience to motels, she said, and provided a "backup" during busy periods when other visitor accommodation was scarce.

Rotorua's commercial short-term accommodation occupancy rates ranged from 44.6 percent in July to 68.8 percent in January according to the latest Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment data.

If the policy went ahead the tiny home would stay empty as she said it was not compliant with the Residential Tenancies Act for long-term living, and a full-time renter would mean too much noise, mess and lost privacy for her family. She said she believed many hosts would be in the same situation.

Browne said the homes should be assessed case-by-case, such as through a resource consent process.

Council corporate service group manager Thomas Collé said council research found more than 1000 properties in the district were advertised for short-term accommodation, down from 1200-1300 prior to the pandemic.

"[The proposal] raises the question of fairness and equity and whether owners of properties offering short-term accommodation are paying their fair share towards the district and tourism promotion compared to traditional accommodation providers like motels, hotels and campgrounds."

Rotorua Lakes Council corporate services group manager Thomas Collé

Rotorua Lakes Council corporate services group manager Thomas Collé. Photo: LDR / Laura Smith

He said they benefited from tourism marketing of Rotorua funded by commercial rates.

Collé said 30, 60 and 90 advertised days were considered for the proposal.

"We also looked at what other councils are doing. For instance, Queenstown has a voluntary registration system and applies different rates based on how properties are used."

He said the proposal intended to find a fair approach to distinguish between homes used mostly for family living but occasionally advertised for short stays, and those solely used for commercial purposes.

"Homeowners that rent only part of their home, like one room, won't be included and were never intended to be.

"But those using properties solely for short-term rentals would be treated as commercial…"

He said ratepayers who received a letter about the economic development rate and did not believe they fit the criteria should contact the council.

As of Friday, it was dealing with 70 enquiries.

"We have a high degree of confidence in the 912 letters sent but expect it may ultimately be fewer as we receive more information from property owners."

Local Democracy Reporting asked why the draft plan did not include more detail about how the policy would be applied and to who.

Collé said the consultation document was intended to provide a summary of proposals, but accepted it could have been clearer.

"Property owners who received letters were invited to an information session regarding the proposal which enabled us to provide more detail.

"They have the opportunity to discuss their situation with us so that we can confirm with them whether the proposed rate would apply to them."

If the policy was adopted the rating information database (RID) for all properties in the district will be updated by 30 June.

This database will determine whether a property is residential or commercial for the following year, effective from 1 July.

If a property owner stops providing short-term accommodation during the year, their rate cannot be reset until the next update.

Once a rate is set, it cannot be adjusted unless there was an error. If the proposed policy is adopted and ratepayers plan to stop providing short-term accommodation before 1 July, they will need to notify the council before 1 July.

Consultation on the draft plan ends on May 10.

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