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Level playing field needed

Growth in Airbnb listings leads to calls for regulation

Martinborough has 52 Airbnb listings. PHOTO/FILE

CAL ROBERTS
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Holidaymakers in Wairarapa are spoiled for choice as accommodation disruptor Airbnb becomes increasingly popular in the region.

But now industry promoters are calling for a fairer system to make sure businesses pay their way.

South Wairarapa had 152 listings on Airbnb in March, which equates to 3.8 per cent of the total private occupied stock in the district – the highest percentage in the wider Wellington region.

Masterton has 52 listings [0.5 per cent of Masterton district], and Carterton 32 [one per cent of Carterton district].

Airbnb is a peer-to-peer short-term rental site that helps property owners let their homes or rooms to visitors.

Some property owners have enjoyed a new revenue stream by letting their homes out to short-term visitors to the region.

Destination Wairarapa has prepared a submission addressing the subject of lodging accommodation, which will be sent to all three district councils as part of their respective long-term plan processes.

General manager David Hancock said the submission was seeking regulation.

“Destination Wairarapa really likes Airbnb, it’s a major international booking engine and accommodation providers should be on it where eligible.

“But we’re also saying that any business that wants to benefit from tourism should either be contributing to the industry through their regional tourism organisation or through their rates as a business – one or the other.”

He said it was great to see people benefiting from tourism in Wairarapa, but lodging businesses paying residential rates should not be overlooked.

“You can’t just sit there and collect money from a business – and it is a business – without contributing.”

He said there were commercial operations doing everything right by the council in terms of building requirements and more, and it was important to level the playing field.

Robyn McKeown operates a lodging accommodation business in Martinborough.

Her business, Martinborough Mews, operated in a residential area, but the business is rated as commercial, which she said was “fair and square”.

“We’re a business, we pay rates accordingly.”

She wanted council rates policies to consider accommodation operators who used Airbnb, to provide an even playing field “in terms of rules, regulations and rates”.

“They may not be drawing as much income as I am because they may not be listed on the same websites . . . but I think they should be paying a commercial rate – as we are.”

Masterton, Carterton and South Wairarapa district councils do not alter residential rates depending on whether a property is occupied by owners, or used as lodging accommodation.

David Paris. PHOTO/FILE

Masterton District Council finance manager David Paris said its rating policy had three categories: residential – non-residential or rural.

“A non-residential property refers to a business that is being run from an urban location, including motels and hotels.

“These properties pay higher rates as a way of ensuring equity across all our rate-paying properties.”

He said residential properties being rented for temporary accommodation, like Airbnb, did not come under the same rating category as motels or hotels.

“This includes all bed and breakfasts or holiday homes as the purpose is residential. The same goes for investment properties that owners rent out.”

Mr Paris said MDC would consider changing its rating system if ratepayers made submissions that justified a change in policy.

“It’s also worthwhile considering that if people are successfully letting out rooms or guesthouses for temporary accommodation it’s helping bring more visitors to the region.

“And, of course, those visitors are spending money with our local businesses.”

South Wairarapa District Council chief executive Paul Crimp said rates were not adjusted to accommodate a commercial venture like a bed and breakfast in a residential space. He said that while his council was aware of a lack of rental and permanent accommodation in South Wairarapa, it had no power to drive a change in property use.

“That is, we cannot charge a rate with the specific outcome of reducing the number of bed and breakfasts to increase the supply of housing stock.”

The first South Wairarapa Airbnb registered property was listed in December 2015, first Carterton property in March 2016, and the first Masterton property in June 2016.

1 COMMENT

  1. So I guess you’ll be imposing this regulation to all the people who hire out their houses out the coast on sites like book a bach, and holidayhomes.co.nz? And what about those that only rent a single room in their house on air bnb? Are they expected to pay commercial rates all year, even though they might only rent the room out half a dozen times? Hardly seems fair.

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