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News

Key to Unwelcome 'Guests' & Overcrowded Flats Is At Your Fingertips

It started with a complaint from an exasperated reader who declared himself sick of all the negative Airbnb and holiday letting stories we run on Flat Chat. But it’s not that this reader was in favour of unfettered holiday lets, far from it, but that people like us were faffing around, banging on about legislation and by-laws when he felt there were much more effective ways of stopping the problem, and doing so at the front door, literally. From our email exchanges, it emerged that there’s an ingenious means of preventing anyone you don’t want in your building from getting access. “Most owners believe they can’t do anything if holiday lets are legal but they all forget about a simple thing.” writes our reader. “We are entitled to know who is living in the building at any time, and we have security software organised by our building manager.” The answer, our reader says, is to include a biometric element like fingerprints in the key fob. Now, in the past that has led to complaints about privacy, specifically fingerprints stored on a central computer somewhere in the building or off-site in a security company’s offices, with no control over what happens to them. Computer says ‘no’. But what if the fingerprint pattern is stored INSIDE the key fob?  There is no central registry, therefore no broader privacy issue. 
Flat Chat
Jimmy Thomson

NSW building inquiry targets cladding in final report

A NSW Upper House inquiry into the state’s troubled building industry has made 22 recommendations in its final report, including 11 that outline how the Government should handle the flammable cladding crisis. The report by the Public Accountability Committee also calls on the Berejiklian Government to grant the Building Commissioner new powers to address the “alarming problems” plaguing the industry. Building industry regulation expert Bronwyn Weir says the final report’s cladding-related recommendations, including the creation of a remediation package similar to the $600 million program announced in Victoria last year, are a step in the right direction. “Most of them are very sensible and it is clear that the committee favours the approach taken by Victoria,” Ms Weir told insuranceNEWS.com.au. “I also believe the Victorian approach is comprehensive and have supported government funding for rectification for some time. “Even if rectification funding cannot be given, it is very important that owners have assistance from government through the rectification process so that it is done once and done properly.” She also backs the move to expand the powers of Building Commissioner David Chandler, saying it would enable him to “have an immediate impact on lifting the standard of apartment buildings.”
Insurance News

High-Rise Tower Catches Fire in United Arab Emirates

A high-rise tower caught fire late Tuesday in the United Arab Emirates in a city-state neighboring Dubai, a blaze that saw flames rapidly shoot up the sides of the building like other recent incidents that involved flammable cladding. The blaze at the 48-story Abbco Tower in Sharjah saw flaming debris shower neighboring dusty parking lots and left metal siding littering surrounding streets. The UAE, including skyscraper-studded Dubai, has suffered a spate of fires in its high-rises in recent years. The reason for the blazes, building and safety experts say, is the material used for the buildings’ sidings, called aluminum composite panel cladding.
The Associated Press

Upper House report slams Government on cladding, defects and reforms

A NSW Upper House committee has slammed the NSW State government over alleged failures in three key areas all of which are directly related to apartment living. The government is accused of failing to properly address issues with flammable cladding, dragging its feet on legislation required to give Building Commissioner David Chandler the powers he needs to clean up the building industry, and leaving apartment owners in sub-standard buildings in the lurch. The Legislative Council Public Accountability Committee’s final report into the Regulation of Building Standards, Building Quality and Building Disputes was issued last week to almost zero media attention. And the report warns that lack of action on certification and defects, combined with a push by government to allow the accelerated approvals of apartment blocks for low-cost housing, could be a recipe for disaster. “The safety and integrity of the New South Wales building and construction industry has never been more important,” writes  committee chair David Shoebridge. “With all levels of government looking to deliver a sustained increase in construction activity during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is essential that the Parliament acts now to deliver critical and long-delayed reforms.” The Greens MLC goes on to say the report “highlights the systemic issues plaguing the building and construction industry and the lack of regulation and oversight by the NSW Government.”
Flat-Chat
Jimmy Thomson

Is this the end of Airbnb?

Brian Chesky is no stranger to big lifts. The 38-year-old former bodybuilder and Airbnb CEO has, in the space of 11 years, hauled his property rental dream from a single air mattress to a multi-billion dollar startup success story. But as hosts rage and debt piles up, the huge weight of the coronavirus pandemic might be too much for Chesky to bear. In Prague, officials are using the pandemic to try and regain control over the burgeoning short-term rental market that has decimated the supply of housing available to local residents. Other cities may soon follow suit. Hosts are calling it the Airbnb apocalypse. But it’s more akin to an enema. Airbnb maintains that it’s “powered by local hosts”, but the reality is quite different. Yes, there are many hosts on Airbnb who live in the properties they list on the platform. But, in many markets, including the entire of the United States, the number of “professional” hosts seemingly outnumbers those listing on Airbnb to earn a bit of extra cash from their cosy spare room. 
Wired
JAMES TEMPERTON

'We've never had it this busy': Home isolation drives renovation boom

Builder Paul Rice is accustomed to constructing new houses and restoring old ones. But while some of his bigger projects have dried up due to the coronavirus crisis, demand for small jobs and maintenance - such as repairing dodgy door hinges - from homeowners in isolation has gone through the roof. "I've had a lot of people coming to me wanting to fix all the stuff that's been broken in their house for years," said Mr Rice. "There's a lot of home grooming going on." Owners Corporation Network executive officer Karen Stiles said some unit residents, particularly those working from home, worried the renovation boom meant more construction noise and tradespeople in their buildings. Ms Stiles said one example of conflict over apartment renovations was contained in a letter from a worried resident whose neighbour was renovating the kitchen, bathroom and tiled floor for the next month. "I am concerned about the noise, and any risks associated with having tradesmen around at this time," the woman's letter read. "There will be nowhere to 'escape' for a reprieve from the noise."
WA Today
Megan Gorrey

Airbnb accused of misleading property owners

Airbnb has been accused of sending confusing information to NSW hosts about a new law that allows a ban on short-term letting by investors, in a bid to delay it being taken up by strata schemes. The Fair Trading Amendment (Short-term Rental Accommodation) Act 2018 gives NSW owners corporation the power to create bylaws restricting short-term letting by investor owners via special resolution passed with 75 per cent votes. With the growing concern over the spread of COVID-19, many owner corporations are expected to move quickly to adopt a bylaw to reduce the risks of virus transmission caused by the continual influx of guests and service providers in the building.
The Australian Financial Review
Nila Sweeney

Airbnb suspends new UK bookings until at least 18 April

Airbnb has blocked UK properties from accepting new bookings for the coming days unless they are for key workers. It comes after the accommodation website was criticised for advertising properties as suitable for guests to use to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic. The firm said it had stopped properties from receiving new bookings until at least 18 April. An exception will be made for its initiative that offers free stays for NHS staff and paid or subsidised stays for other key workers exempt from the government’s travel restrictions.
The Guardian
PA Media

Minister condemns Airbnb hosts offering 'Covid-19 retreats'

Airbnb hosts have been accused of irresponsible and dangerous behaviour for advertising properties in Britain as “Covid-19 retreats”. Laws brought in to combat the spread of coronavirus state that holiday accommodation should only be provided to key workers needing to self-isolate. But BBC News found that some properties were being advertised as places to self-isolate without any vetting. Only one of the Airbnb hosts it contacted said their rental was available solely to key workers, it reported. In response, the tourism minister, Nigel Huddleston, said: “Essential travel does not include holidays, leisure travel and visits to second homes - and people must remain in their primary residence. It is incredibly irresponsible and dangerous for some property owners to be marketing themselves as ‘isolation retreats’.”
The Guardian
Haroon Siddique and Alex Hern

Airbnbs declared ‘illegal’ as NSW government cracks down on holidaymakers

It is now illegal for anyone in NSW to stay in an Airbnb or similar short-term letting agency accommodation, a government spokesman has declared. Under the new coronavirus regulations, no one should be staying anywhere other than their own permanent home, and they could be fined or imprisoned if they were found to be breaking emergency rules. “There’s zero reason for someone to stay in an Airbnb,” said a spokesperson for the Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Anderson. “It’s illegal to have any guests whatsoever. “It isn’t illegal for them to advertise the property but guests couldn’t get there without breaking the law.” The spokesperson was responding to a question about why the long-awaited and much-debate code of conduct for the short-term rental accommodation industry was suddenly shelved after it had been scheduled to come into effect on April 10. Apartment lobby group the Owners Corporation Network (OCN) said they were alarmed by the move, as the code of conduct was particularly urgent at the time of the COVID-19 emergency.
Domain
Sue Williams

Disrupting the disruptors: how Covid-19 will shake up Airbnb

Airbnb was built on the premise of bringing the world closer together. Tourists could travel like locals, while locals could cash in on their desirable neighbourhood properties by letting those visitors in. Last year the company was estimated to be worth more than US$30bn. It is scheduled to go public in 2020. Then came the Covid-19 pandemic. Stephen Colman, who was an Airbnb host and ran an Airbnb management business up until last year, says “the whole industry has fallen through”. Many hosts are either pulling out of Airbnb to find cheaper long-term tenants or have been offering “14-day isolation suites”. “There are real concerns around cleaning stuff,” Colman says, “How many hours between checkout and check-in … [Hosts] have seen a fightback from body corporates who are just outright cancelling the key fobs for anyone who they believe is doing Airbnb. They’ve just gone ‘we’re going to take this hard line to protect the safety of our long-term tenants’.” Jane Hearn, deputy chair of the Owners Corporation Network, has argued that opening Airbnb properties for quarantine “increases the viral load on apartment owners and tenants”. Resident advocacy groups such as We Live Here and Neighbours Not Strangers were already lobbying against Airbnb on behalf of local communities who were sick of rowdy travellers in their apartment complexes. In a letter to New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian on 1 April, Neighbours Not Strangers called for an immediate ban on all short-term rentals, due to the risks from Covid-19.  
The Guardian
Meg Watson

Compo over ‘unbearable’ noise in swanky Canberra apartment

A resident at Canberra's swanky Nishi apartment building has been awarded more than $20,000 in compensation over “unbearable” structual cracks the defective building makes — noises she compared to cannon fire.  The noises, Ms de Gruchy said, were loud enough to wake a sleeping person, as frequently as every six minutes.
The Daily Telegraph

In Blow to Airbnb, EU Court Adviser Says Solving Housing Shortage Is Priority

BRUSSELS — European cities cracking down on short-term rentals of private homes like those on Airbnb got a boost on Thursday after an adviser to Europe's top court said they have the right to vet such rentals to tackle the shortage of long-term housing. The homesharing site's rapid growth over the last decade has posed a challenge for authorities in cities from Amsterdam to New York and Paris which have accused Airbnb of worsening housing shortages and pushing out lower-income residents. "A shortage of long-term housing constitutes an overriding reason of public interest capable of justifying a national measure, which requires authorisation to be obtained for the repeated letting of residential accommodation for short periods to a transit clientele," Bobek said.
The New York Times
Reuters

Rents could soon fall in these popular Australian suburbs, as nearly 40,000 new listings flood the property market

The coronavirus’ squeeze on short-term rentals, like Airbnbs, looks set to deliver tenants a major win. The number of new listings has surged in recent weeks, according to Domain figures supplied to Business Insider Australia, as options for renters swell. While realestate.com.au declined to share its figures, the overall picture from Domain is pretty staggering. Nearly 40,000 new homes have been listed nationally in the last two weeks, almost 8,000 or 20% more than this time last year. In Tasmania, Australia’s smallest state and one of it’s most tourism-reliant, there’s been an astounding 58% surge. Meanwhile, the country’s three big eastern states, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, have collectively seen more than 30,000 new rentals emerge, a 25%, 21%, and 18% jump on last year respectively.
Business Insider
JACK DERWIN

Call for apartment guidelines to contain virus

High-density apartment buildings are at risk of becoming hotspots for coronavirus infection, akin to cruise ships, unless there are firm and uniform government directives on hygiene, experts say. Strata lawyer Amanda Farmer of Lawyers Chambers said despite a raft of new regulations and measures on social distancing, specific guidelines for strata residents and managers had been overlooked. In the City of Sydney Council area alone, 80 per cent of residents live in strata buildings. "These high-density places will soon turn into 'cruise ships on land' unless firm directives are put into place as soon as possible," Ms Farmer said. "Outbreaks are imminent and our buildings are simply ill-equipped to deal with them."
The Australian Financial Review
Nila Sweeney

What Members Say

"The whole strata community owes a huge debt of gratitude to you and the OCN executive. Much appreciated."

Robert, Darlinghurst

"I am very pleased with my membership of OCN, the discussions through sharing emails is very valuable in increasing my knowledge of strata living, the laws and EC responsibilities. I think I am better armed to tread the minefield of the managing agent responsibilities and the necessary action of the EC to monitor the contradictory interests of the agent."

Jim, Wollstonecraft

"I so appreciate being part of the OCN email forum. It provides a great opportunity for sharing ideas and learning"

Ingrid, Neutral Bay

"I must say that I have enjoyed and found consolation in the discussions that have been part of the email chain (forum). I did attend one general meeting and found that it was informative and the people "running the show" were knowledgeable and dedicated to the tasks that had taken on. In short, well done. You and the committee have and continue to support the Strata Community in a very professional manner."

Greg, Parramatta

"Nothing is easy in Strata World and we have been in building defects “mode” for some years – hopefully almost at an end but that process has been most demanding and difficult but again – greatly helped by the experience and wise counsel of other members of OCN."

Pat, St Leonards

"Keep up the good work, as many (if not most) strata schemes need your help, advice and representation at all levels of government."

Jann and John, St Ives

"I belong to OCN because of its professionalism.  I have found the meetings I have been to extremely well presented, to the point, and of course very topical and informative. Speakers on the whole certainly know their topic.  My role of Secretary last year was certainly assisted with the coverage regarding TPG & other subjects. Member newsletters are also of benefit as the topics are specific to strata matters."

Graham, East Balmain

I have enjoyed attending the quarterly OCN meetings and the exchange of emails between other Executive Committee Members and think OCN is playing an increasingly important role as a voice for strata dwellers and representing us at Government level. I wish the organisation continuing success in the future."

Pauline, Kings Cross

"The [forum] response to my question was amazing and really useful.  The OCN community is wonderful so thanks."

Jenny, Killara

"I would like to thank you all for the important effort that you are all putting in to look after apartment owners and tenants. It is so valuable and you are heroes. I would not have been able to deal with my duties as a strata chairman without your advice and assistance." 

Angela, Mascot

"The OCN is invaluable – many thanks."

Bill, Surry Hills

"OCN is proving invaluable"

Sue, Neutral Bay

"Thanks to all at OCN for your continuing efforts to keep us up to date with current strata information and advice...it has been very helpful to us"

Kate, Coogee

"When my wife & I first encountered a problematic Executive Committee I heard that OCN was a great help (from a Strata manager whom I knew) so we both joined and have gratefully used the on-line information sources. We continued to happily rely on OCN’s assistance when we progressed to Committee status & later as Chair & Secretary of our Committee. I still use OCN in my current role as Treasurer."

Peter, Chiswick

"Thanks to OCN for being such a rich resource of trustworthy information about strata matters."

Peter, Chiswick

"I wanted to extend my personal thanks for the very informative & interesting event today. The OCN team did an outstanding job in the organisation of this event & I enjoyed it thoroughly. The quality of speakers, the flow of conversation & interaction from the attendees - first class …& of course, the amazing Jimmy T - always a delight."

Sue, Epping

"OCN does a great job in providing a really valuable service to Strata owners."

Lois, Wollongong

"I am sure my appreciation of your good works is echoed by many in the Stratasphere. Keep up the good work."

John, Elizabeth Bay

"The OCN is probably one of the best, most informed and most informative groups I have been involved with."

Alan, Maryville

"Once again, being able to discuss such things through this forum, helps clear the mind, puts things into perspective and helps one to understand their rights and to form a strategy if needs be. As a simple EC member trying to do what is in the best interests of lot owners, I truly value OCN and am grateful."

Pamela, Point Lookout