Residents powerless to stop Airbnb ‘party houses’
A LOBBY group fighting the growing trend of short-stay "party houses" in high-rise apartment blocks claims platforms like Airbnb and Stayz are increasingly bringing alcohol-fuelled violence and unruly behaviour to residential areas.
We Live Here, which represents residents of more than 200 buildings in inner-city and suburban Melbourne, says communities in regional Victoria are beginning to speak out against the rapidly rising, unregulated commercial short-stay industry.
"We've had people contact us about party houses in and around their neighbourhoods," said Marshall Delves, 69, building manager of Watergate Apartments in Melbourne's Docklands and co-founder of We Live Here.
"It's an Australia-wide problem, not only in Victoria. I had a call from a lady recently, the house next door was solely used for parties. It's non-stop every weekend, all weekend, the noise, the music, the drinking, the loud voices."
There are about 26,000 Airbnb listings in Victoria and about 40,000 in NSW, where the state government is yet to finalise details of a new regulatory approach to homesharing and short-term accommodation.
In NSW, one neighbour of a five-bedroom Palm Beach house dubbed Australia's most lucrative Airbnb listing - estimated to earn its owner nearly $250,000 a year - said the house was used for parties nearly every weekend.
"It's been going on for about a year now," said the neighbour, who asked not to be named. "There are groups of people staying nearly ever weekend. The street fills up with cars. There's often bucks parties and hens parties with strippers coming and going.
"It's the noise that's the worst part. Some nights I have to sleep with earplugs due to the loud music and the whooping of the hens parties.
"And there's nothing I can do about it until midnight on weekends. You can't call NSW Police for a noise complaint before 12pm on Fridays and Saturdays. And call me old, but I often like going to bed a lot earlier than that. One night I slept with my head under a pillow to try and block out the noise."
The neighbour said she had complained to Airbnb but "nothing came of it".
"You feel so powerless and it's awful being regularly disturbed in your own home like that. There's nothing you can do about it. Other than this one house, it's a really quiet, lovely neighbourhood. Most of our neighbours are retirees and young families. We've all had enough."
Christina Metz, 65, lives alone in the resort-town suburb of Portsea on the Mornington Peninsula, next to a popular party house. She said every weekend for at least six months of the year, sometimes for weeks at a time, the house was filled with huge groups of rowdy guests.
"The owners turned it from a three-bedroom, one bathroom house to a five-bedroom, five-bathroom house and put in a pool," she said. "It accommodates some 12 people, the only time I went over there I counted 20.
"You get groups down, bucks nights, all men, or all girls screeching, you get schoolies, I hear swearing, drunken singing, drinking games, shouting, sometimes they put loudspeakers outside. People come down here with ice and have parties.
"The regulations allow them to make as much noise as they like during the day. The only time any law comes into effect is from 10pm to 7am, but I live here. During the day it starts, they get up late, have lunch, then it escalates. If it was a hotel, motel or a caravan park there would be a manager to manage the noise level."
Ms Metz describes her living situation as a "nightmare". "My whole attitude to where I live has changed," she said. "It used to be my house where I live, my haven, now it's just this nightmare. It's an unbearable situation.
"I'm absolutely distraught. I've had to go to the doctor, I can't bear it. I can't live here. If it was a neighbour and they had a party once a year, that's OK, but this is every week. It's not just a couple of weeks, it's not just over summer, it's every weekend.
"What am I going to do? Do I have to move? Who's got rights? The owners have more rights than I have. They have the right to earn money, do I have the right to live my life in peace?"
In Melbourne, Watergate's owners corporation last year lost a landmark legal battle against short-stay operators Docklands Executive Apartments, which lets out 15 apartments in the 349-unit twin-tower complex dubbed "Partygate", due to its popularity with visitors staging bucks' and hens' nights.
In a decision hailed by Airbnb as "great news for the thousands of everyday Australians", the Victorian Supreme Court ruled owners corporations were powerless to meddle with owners' rights to let their units short-term.
"It was just out of control," said Mr Delves. "It was parties, week in, week out, drug dealers abusing the short-stays as a place for their distribution."
In one case, Mr Delves said he was contacted by one of his neighbours after an ice-affected guest tried to break into their apartment. CCTV footage showed the man trying to get into all of the apartments on the level.
Mr Delves said he had no problem with "mums and dads" using sites like Airbnb and Stayz to rent out their spare room, but took issue with landlords either being absent or handing off to commercial operators.
We Live Here wants tougher regulation for short-stays, including a minimum of 30-day stays in apartment buildings. "Hotels are regulated," he said. "The loss of amenity, security and safety issues - we have families living in the buildings - when you've got strangers coming in all the time, clogging up lifts, the wear and tear, it's astronomical."
A Victorian parliamentary committee investigating proposed changes to legislation affecting short-stay accommodation made a number of recommendations earlier this year.
"Recent legal cases make it clear the current law is inadequate with owners corporations unable to adequately regulate or manage on behalf of residents in apartment towers," committee chair David Davis said in a statement.
"There is no doubting the growing importance and in particular the economic significance of the peer-to-peer accommodation sector and the aim of government regulation must be to ensure this sector thrives within a responsible framework that accords fairness and rights to those with whom it cohabits.
"What is clear is the bill presented to parliament by the government did not address many of the key issues adequately ... Matters raised with the committee but clearly of concern to many apartment dwellers were not dealt with by the bill at all."
The committee recommended that the government consider whether the current proposed legislation is unfair to residents and should be reworked, and to investigate introducing a registration and compliance framework for commercial-residential short-stay accommodation.
Mr Delves said the committee's recommendations were encouraging but didn't do anything to address concerns of residents living in regional Victoria. "There's no regulation for party houses in the country, beachside resorts, houses along the Murray, no regulation whatsoever," he said.
A spokesman for Airbnb Australia hit back at We Live Here's claims.
"This is a scare campaign to malign the thousands of everyday Victorians who rely on Airbnb for important supplemental income, the overwhelming majority of whom are good neighbours and respectful travellers," he said.
"There have been over 180 million guest arrivals on Airbnb and negative incidents are extremely rare. We have no tolerance for this type of behaviour and on the rare occasion an incident occurs, we immediately ban guests from the platform. We also remove listings that fail to uphold our commitment to being a good neighbour.
"Airbnb has a strong track record of supporting measures in Victoria and across Australia which strike the right balance between support home sharing, while stamping out anti-social behaviour. We look forward to working collaboratively with the Victorian Government towards fair and progressive regulations, which support the right to home share in a respectful and responsible manner."