THE NUMBER of properties offered on Airbnb could be slashed thanks to a NSW government proposal to impose stringent new fire safety rules on homes being let short-term.
To bring their homes up to the required level, owners and lead tenants could face bills of thousands of dollars to fit integrated smoke alarms in bedrooms and corridors, as well as heat sensors in kitchens, fire extinguishers, fire blankets, emergency exit lights and evacuation maps.
The proposal to bring entire homes advertised on platforms like Airbnb and Stayz up to a standard closer to B&Bs, serviced apartments, boarding houses and hotels is in the discussion document put forward by NSW Planning.
Tony Cordato, principal of business, property and tourism lawyers Cordato Partners, said the stricter fire regulations, combined with the impending requirement for short-term hosts to register their premises, could deter many people from leasing out their whole homes.
“These fire regulations will come in; there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “You don’t argue with the fire commissioners who have put this forward. They’re really fierce people who take this very seriously.
“The planning department will recommend this, and local councils will be the ones in charge of enforcement. With short-term lettings all having to register, it will be much easier to track which are complying – and they’ll have to comply.”
But Airbnb public affairs manager Julian Crowley has hit back angrily at the proposal.
“Our community is concerned that the Coalition government is considering imposing onerous additional requirements on every single holiday home in the state,” he said. “These homes have already been approved by local authorities, built and have hosted local families and guests for decades.
“Now they want to unfairly change the rules mid-game on thousands of people who have used their holiday homes for years without issue. Just as we don’t regulate trucks and cars the same way, we should regulate homes and hotels [differently]. It is grossly unfair to make a two-bedroom holiday home follow the same rules as a 200-room hotel.”
In November 2018 Airbnb launched a massive campaign to try to defeat an earlier proposal – not as tough as this one – to improve fire safety. It supplied hosts with a form letter to protest against the mooted changes which property owners sent into the government, although often without even changing the instruction at the top on how to personalise them.
“More than 300 Airbnb hosts sent identical letters to Department of Planning,” said planning lawyer and deputy chair of the apartment-owners peak body the Owners Corporation Network Jane Hearn. “Among other things, the letters object to the previously proposed fire safety standards.
“Because Airbnb has ‘deemed them safe’ they say they don’t want the ‘additional burden’ of installing interconnected smoke alarms and heat alarms. I really don’t get it; if you are in hospitality, why wouldn’t you want the best safety for your guests and for your own property?
“At the recent code of conduct planning meetings when Airbnb was voicing opposition to occupancy limits, delegates were told by people in the hospitality industry that overcrowding and fire was a real issue. One speaker’s own $3 million house had been burnt to the ground by visitors.”
Fire industry service company Juno Fire estimates the cost of installing the fire alarms and heat sensor alone in a two-bedroom apartment could be well over $1000.
“A normal apartment block is usually a Class 2 building, but these are the types of service you need for a transient dwelling, a boarding house or a hotel room,” said Juno director Rob Searle.
“The cost will depend on the situation, but two integrated smoke alarms in bedrooms would be around $450 plus GST, then two more in hallways, then a heat sensor … It would be over $1000 then you have the signage and the other equipment.”
Airbnb said that, before listing on the platform, all hosts are required to certify they comply with local laws and fire and safety regulations, which are published on the company’s responsible hosting pages.
Mr Crowley said: “The NSW government should honour past commitments and support fair and balanced rules for home-sharing that protect people’s choice to share their home responsibly, while appropriately managing local needs.”