SHORT-TERM accommodation providers have slammed a new tax imposed by Fremantle council as a punishment to appease big hotels.
At last week’s budget meeting, the council applied a differential rate on short-term accommodation in residential areas which will add on average $195 to their annual rates.
But Alison Richards, who manages about 20 properties for a variety of owners and lets out a place of her own, says the council appears to be buckling to pressure from the hotel industry.
“Why are Airbnb properties being targeted – is this to appease the hotel industry who appear to be lobbying the council on this matter?” Ms Richards said.
“Why is this new differential rate only being applied to residential short-term accommodation properties and not to all home-based businesses?”
Ms Richards says her suspicions were further raised when she fronted last week’s council meeting to ask where the money raised from the tax would be used, only to find that it was going towards the council’s new destination marketing strategy.
Two letters sent out by the council earlier this month made no mention of destination marketing, noting only the differential rate was for “the provision of services and facilities” for commercial facilities.
Ms Richards says that if short-termers had been made aware of the destination marketing angle, more might have objected.
“All Airbnb and Homeaway owners already promote Fremantle as a destination, recommending local eateries, tourism operators, retail outlets and artists on their property websites,” she said.
“We provide a service that brings significant tourist dollars to our town and Fremantle would be a poorer place without us.”
Ms Richards says many owners only let out properties when they weren’t using them themselves, and she says they’re now likely to simply leave them empty.
The other alternative is for owners to go underground and not register their properties with the council, which Ms Richards says will punish those like her who do the right thing.
Fremantle Chamber of Commerce CEO Olwyn Williams is a supporter of the rate and says it’s simply making it a level playing field.
She says Fremantle’s not the only council grappling with how to regulate and control the online disruptors such as Airbnb, Homeaway and Stayz, as it’s become an international issue similar to Uber or Amazon.
Ms Williams says apart from hotels, Fremantle has four youth hostels that are being affected by the rise of Airbnb.
“I had a look and there were 350 properties registered in Fremantle – in 6160,” she says of the Airbnb booking site.
“I scrolled through about 120 of them and these are properties that are not hosted experiences, they were complete properties.
“These are properties that are not a primary residence, they’re not someone letting out a room or a studio out the back, they are people moving into a commercial world.”
Ms Williams says the chamber doesn’t think the council has gone far enough with its short-stay accommodation policy – though it’s one of the first councils to implement one – and it needs to focus more on compliance.
She says there are already complaints filtering in to the chamber about Airbnb rentals, particularly in apartment complexes, while the rise of “party houses” over east where people rent a house in a false name then trash the place.
The council’s business director Glen Dougall says the rate was developed following discussions with hotels, but follows Ms Williams’ line that it levels the playing field.
“The city is fortunate to have a number of new hotel developments in the pipeline at the moment, like the DoubleTree by Hilton, the Old Courthouse and Police Station and the Warders Cottages,” Mr Dougall said. “We encourage hotel developments because they create jobs and bring in a greater number of people to Fremantle, which supports local business.
“Commercial properties, like hotels, pay higher rates to pay for services the city provides that support their commercial activities. Airbnb is a commercial activity so it’s only fair that they should pay a higher rate than a residential rate.”
Mr Dougall said the new differential rate would only apply to those renting out two or more bedrooms, so would exclude those renting out the spare room occasionally.
He says the tax will only raise $35,000 for the council and won’t be exclusively for marketing.
by STEVE GRANT