Rules change prompts deluge

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City Hall has been hit with an avalanche of paperwork from residents who let out their homes to tourists – as they scramble to get sign-off before rules change.

Queenstown’s council received 161 visitor accommodation applications in November and December.

It had received just 73 all year before that. In November and December 2016, only seven consents were processed.

The influx has been prompted by proposals – dubbed an ‘Airbnb crackdown’ – which aim to tackle the resort’s rental and affordable housing crisis.

They include plans to slash the number of days a residential property can be let, from the current 90 days without resource consent to just 28.

But, crucially, homeowners who can prove they are legally operating under the existing district plan rules now, will be able to continue operating in the same way even if the rules change.

Queenstown’s mayor Jim Boult says: “Number one, I’m pleased if nothing else that this has driven people to actually comply.

“It’s disappointing it’s taken council to act in the way it has for people to come forward.

“However, it is positive we’re tidying this up. It doesn’t surprise me and I think council was well aware that a lot more activity went on in this space than we were aware of.”

One way to prove compliance is a ‘certificate of compliance’, and 108 of the November and December applications are for such certificates.

Council inspectors will visit those properties and check paperwork, rates, etc.

The other 53 applications are resource consent applications from property owners who let out for longer than 90 days, or outside of the current rules in other ways.

Boult says if operators get consent before the rules change, then so be it.

“But I don’t think it takes away from the effectiveness of what we’re planning to do overall.”

There are a whole raft of changes proposed to the existing visitor accommodation rules, covering homestays, residential visitor accommodation and visitor accommodation.

They’re part of the district plan process. Public consultation ends on February 23, then a hearing with independent commissioners will be held.

Airbnb is by far the biggest player in the district with about 2000 listings, but it is only one of about 100 websites the council has been monitoring.

Airbnb’s public policy ANZ boss Brent Thomas says the firm considers the proposal “counterproductive and out of step with other progressive cities”. He says hosts have made it clear they don’t want to navigate confusing or costly red tape.

“We want council to develop a regulatory framework which leverages technology, strikes the right balance and doesn’t burden council or our local community with onerous, unnecessary paperwork and red tape.”

Queenstown’s council resource consents boss Quinn McIntyre says his team is coping, with more staff and a pool of external contractors.

paul.taylor@scene.co.nz