Airbnb's home-rental feud moves to New Zealand

Queenstown, New Zealand (Queenstown Council is scheduled to discuss proposed regulations on home-rentals on Nov. 8, 2017.)

Airbnb has vehemently opposed new proposed changes to short-term visitor lodging rules in the Queenstown Lakes district. According to the online vacation rental company, these new “nanny-state policies,” which will be discussed at a Queenstown Lakes District Council special meeting this week, will harm its tourism economy. 

These policy changes would not affect property owners who personally host up to five visitors in their homes. However, absentee owners and owners renting their homes while they are on vacation will be subject to harsher restrictions. These include renting out their homes for a maximum of 28 days a year, with no more than three separate rentals. This specific policy is a major reduction from the 90 days currently permitted without resource consent.

Brent Thomas, head of public policy for Australia and New Zealand for Airbnb, told the New Zealand Herald greater restrictions on home sharing would not only worsen the district’s current lodging shortage, but also end an “economic lifeline” for residential property owners. "Airbnb strongly believes everyone should have their right to respectfully share their own home if they wish. Nanny-state policies, like caps or bans, would rob people of their property rights, hurt the tourism economy and cost local jobs. The council needs to ask itself—does it really want to win the prize for being the least innovative council?" Thomas said in a statement.

Queenstown property owners quickly jumped to Airbnb’s defense, especially since peer-to-peer, short-stay lodging websites were originally established in New Zealand. Airbnb, one of the biggest home-rental companies in the district with approximately 2,000 listings, is one of about 100 websites the council has been monitoring over the past few years. According to Tony Avery, council planning and development GM, the council has taken a “holistic approach” to a year-long review of Queenstown’s home-rental activity. The proposed policies would offer a “much clearer framework” if passed. Policy, enforcement, the building code and visitor preference were all addressed in the review. 

The proposed home-rental rules in the council’s district plan review make it unlikely homeowners in lower-density residential areas would receive resource consent for renting out their homes for more than 28 days a year. However, property owners in town centers, higher-density residential mixed-use developments and visitor accommodation sub-zones could exceed the 28-day, three-rental limit with consent from the council. Registered homestay providers could continue to host up to five paying guests in their homes with no limit to the number of nights per year as long as these owners are on site. 

If the council approves the string of restrictions, the proposed policies will be announced on Nov. 23 for public consultation. Meanwhile, property owners can continue to operate and receive home-rental consent under the existing rules. The council will not effect the new rules until it has made final decisions after hearing public submissions.

These new regulations follow suit with others passed by city councils. Spain's Balearic Islands recently passed a guestroom cap due to the 23-percent year-over-year increase in the number of tourists using rental accommodation. Those illegally renting apartments will be heavily fined between €20,000 and €40,000. Airbnb criticized the rules, claiming they are confusing, and stated it was ready to work with local authorities. "By working together, we can help build sustainable tourism models that spread benefits to many—not keep them in the hands of a few,” the company said in a statement. Barcelona and Madrid are also limiting the sharing platforms and restricting tourism lodging growth.