With low rental availability rates, the Byron Shire’s permanent residents could benefit from restrictions to short term letting.
With low rental availability rates, the Byron Shire’s permanent residents could benefit from restrictions to short term letting.

’We are suffering because of tourism’

BYRON Shire Council'splans to address short term holiday letting and its impact on long-term rentals will go to Gateway determination before the NSW Department of Planning.

Councillor Michael Lyon said the matter was "the number one issue in the shire" when it went before the council's planning meeting on Thursday. Councillors resolved to put its planning proposal for short term rental accommodation before the State Government, also adopting amendments suggested by Cr Lyon, including that a 90-day limit for non-hosted stays be calculated in available days, not just actual bookings.

The planning proposal was on public exhibition until recently.

"We have the lowest rental vacancy rate in Australia," Cr Lyon said.

"We are suffering because of our tourism and we need to address that."

All other councillors except Cr Alan Hunter supported the amended motion.

Cr Lyon said the details set out in the proposal could pave the way for a future for the shire that held more opportunities for its residents to secure long term rentals.

He said the proposed restrictions wouldn't drastically affect homeowners who might lease their home while they embarked on a holiday, but was targeted at investors who'd acquired properties in Byron purely to market them through short-term holiday accommodation agreements.

Deputy mayor Sarah Ndiaye said making property owners register 90 specific days of availability would be too rigid and "is not going to be accepted" by those affected.

Mayor Simon Richardson agreed, saying the shire was in a "unique position" in terms of being able to negotiate restrictions at all.

"What we really want is for it to be supported," Cr Richardson said.

Cr Lyon said there could be flexibility in the registered 90 days, but having each property's availability logged would make enforcement more achievable.

"We have to make it simple and we need it to be enforceable," he said.

He said the restrictions could be relaxed in the future if they proved to cause overly drastic to Byron's rental market or tourism sector.

A Ministerial Planning Direction, issued on February 15 last year, allows the council to reduce non-hosted short-term rental accommodation to 90 calendar days per year, per property, provided there is evidence to support the change.

A report before the council's December, 2019 ordinary meeting said there had been "significant and sustained growth" in the short term rental sector "in Australia and in particular in the Byron Shire".

According to a report by the council's staff, a proposed "precinct model" wasn't progressed as it required more data analysis and, without this, "has the potential to create an unequal distribution of benefits and burdens across the community".

Councillor Alan Hunter has criticised the "one size fits all" approach.

"Unlike a lot of coastal communities, Byron Shire has resisted development so much so, our housing supply has fallen far short of demand and the medium house price has blown out to the point where we have many investors buying our houses to enjoy the rental income," Cr Hunter said.

He said while this resulted in there being "few local long term residents" in some streets of Byron Bay, other communities might not be experiencing identical circumstances. He said it was important to acknowledge those complexities and the circumstances around Byron's housing crisis.

"My concern is that because we haven't acknowledged the reasons we find ourselves in this predicament, we will have a great deal of difficulty in identifying and implementing a solution any time soon," Cr Hunter said.

"We have in the past and we continue to put such tight limits on housing development … the price and rental values exceed the capacity for the younger first homebuyer and many others in our workforce to afford to live in the shire.

"I can only assume this is an unintended consequence and if so it is not something we can fix until we change the way in which we approach the housing issue.

"Short term holiday letting is a symptom of a much greater problem and … our future communities will be heavily impacted by our decisions today."