Share The Love On The Sharing Economy

21/08/2015 6:24 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Lynn Stanton's recent renovations -- a brand-new kitchen cupboard, sink and smoke alarm -- came in at $10,148. What's remarkable about that is she was forced to do it by City of Sydney Council, and more than $3,000 of the total cost was chewed up by council fees.

Lynn's story is like many others and we're hearing more of them every day. She started letting out a room in her Erskineville home through Airbnb four years ago hoping that what she pocketed from the rental would help make a dent in her mortgage.

Out of an admirable -- and let's face it, rare -- sense of civic duty, Lynn went to Council to make sure she was doing the right thing. For her trouble, the Council threatened to fine Lynn, made her put together a breakfast menu and ordered her to renovate what was already a well-equipped, modern kitchen.

It's hard to understand the Council's response to Lynn's goodwill, which is the regulatory equivalent of cracking a walnut with a sledgehammer. Short-term rental accommodation is nothing new: it's been part of Australia's suburban and regional fabric for as long as I can remember.

We tend to think about the sharing economy as a revolution -- and understandably so -- but it's simply the latest iteration of a much longer process. Just as you'd head down to Avis before GoGet came about or book a kennel before DogVacay, people have been renting out spare rooms, granny flats and holiday houses through the classifieds for years.

The sharing economy as we know it simply digitises the acts of collaborative consumption that have been mainstays for decades. Undeniably the capacity for connection and community has been amplified by technology, but the fundamentals of the process remain the same.

Most of the economic benefit Airbnb generates is concentrated in areas outside of traditional tourist precincts, with 80 percent of listings outside of Sydney's main tourist hot spots. And most people using Airbnb are just like Lynn Stanton: people on relatively modest incomes who open their homes to others to make ends meet.

What Lynn's plight highlights is the inconsistent and incoherent approach to short-term rental accommodation in NSW. Leichhardt Council recently claimed Airbnb did not comply with local planning regulations. Pittwater Council allows holiday rental accommodation to; ' used for a period of less than 3 months by any individual or group'. Byron Bay Council's Short Rental Accommodation Action Plan regulates everything from car parking, registration and signage to the maximum number of guests per room, the contact arrangements for property owners and visitor hours.

This approach is confused and confusing. It's confused about the increasingly popular technology which facilitates these simple collaborative exchanges. It confuses the straightforward and growing consumer need for access over ownership. It hinders what the sharing economy could bring to our state.

An economic impact statement conducted by BIS Shrapnel estimated that Airbnb accounted for $214 million in economic activity in Sydney during the course of a year, and that amount could soar with clear, consistent, common sense regulation. Airbnb could help open the NSW tourism sector to a whole new market. To capture the value being offered, state legislators need to have the guts to accept the challenge presented to us by emerging technology.

As I've said before, the NSW Government is capable of providing these rapidly developing industries with certainty if it has the will and the vision. If you're an Airbnb host renting out space in your primary residence, the Government should make it as easy as possible for you to do so. I propose a State Environmental Planning Policy to harmonise the patchwork of regulations local councils are currently applying to Airbnb providers. This would mean state-wide, consistent and clear standards for short-term rental accommodation in NSW. Implemented correctly, this can strike the right balance between the interests of consumers, providers and the community.

Services like Airbnb and Uber represent an enormous opportunity for the people of this state: one they should be confident about taking advantage of as both consumers and providers. Let's seize that opportunity and open the door to Airbnb.

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