The ‘Airbnb’ tax

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Property investors that choose to utilise their property for short-term stays (or leave it vacant) are firmly in the sights of the regulators.

The Victorian Government’s recent Housing Statement announced Australia’s first short-stay property tax. The additional tax, which is scheduled to come into effect from 1 January 2025, is expected to generate $70 million plus annually. The Short Stay Levy will be set at 7.5% of the short stay accommodation platforms’ revenue – so, a few days in Melbourne at $850 will cost an extra $63.75, taking the stay to $913.75.

According to the statement there are more than 36,000 short stay accommodation places – with almost half of these in regional Victoria. More than 29,000 of those places are entire homes.

Airbnb’s ANZ Country Manager Susan Wheeldon however says that “short-term rentals in Victoria make up less than one percent of total housing stock. Acute housing issues existed long before the founding of Airbnb, and targeting these properties is not a long term solution.”

Property investors are now braced for an onslaught of similar taxes at either the local Government or State level.

For Victorian investment property owners this comes after a temporary land tax surcharge from the 2024 land tax year and for those keeping a property vacant, an increase to the absentee owner surcharge rate from 2% to 4% including a reduction in the tax-free threshold from $300,000 to $50,000 (for non-trust absentee owners).

Some local Government taxes on Airbnb style accommodation will be removed once the new tax comes into effect.

Some Councils already impose a surcharge on short stay accommodation. Brisbane City Council for example imposed a 50% rate surcharge on properties listed for short-term rental for more than 60 days a year in their 2022-23 Budget, only to increase it to 65% in 2023-24.

What happens overseas?

Bed taxes in some form are not uncommon internationally but it is unusual to isolate one form of tourist accommodation from another as the Victorian Government have chosen to do. Also unusual is the 7.5% rate – many local taxes on short stay accommodation are in the 5% range (despite California’s Transient Occupancy Tax of up to 15% depending on the region you are staying).

Globally, the idea of taxing vacant and short-term accommodation is also not new.

In British Columbia, the Underused Housing Tax – a 1% tax on the ownership of vacant or underused housing introduced from 1 January 2022 – has been credited with increasing the rental stock by up to 20,000 properties.

Taking the alternative route to freeing up rental stock, New York introduced new rules in September 2023 that severely restrict Airbnb style accommodation options. Hosts need to register with the city if they offer accommodation for less than 30 consecutive days (unless their building is exempt as a hotel or accommodation establishment). Under the new rules the host must permanently reside in the property – entire properties will no longer be available – and, only two guests are allowed. The platforms are responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance with the new rules.

New York is not alone in curbing the rise of short-term rentals. Amsterdam, Paris and San Francisco limit the number of days in a year an entire residence can be listed – between 30 and 90 days.

Closer to home in Byron Bay, the Byron Bay Council will limit “non hosted holiday letting to 60 days per year for most of the Shire” from 23 September 2024.

But do restrictions on Airbnb create rental stock?

According to Professor Nicole Gurran, from the University of Sydney’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning, if Australia is serious about controlling short-term rentals to solve Australia’s long-term rental crisis, then more needs to be done.

“In comparison to much of the international regulation of the short-term rental market, Australia is very “light touch”. The overarching aim is to encourage the tourism economy.

While this might have been appropriate five years ago when the rental market was in better shape, and long-term housing demand focused on inner city areas, the current crisis demands a new approach. Regulations must be tailored to the conditions of local housing markets, rather than the one-size-fits-all approach that exists today,” Professor Gurran says.

In a 2017 study, Professor Gurran and Professor Peter Phibbs found that, Airbnb absorbed 7% of stock in one Sydney municipality.

So, where is all this going? Governments are unlikely not to take advantage of the opportunity to share in what has become a lucrative short-term rental market. What that looks like will really depend on the States and Territories. Beyond revenue, further regulation is likely to ensure that private gain from short-term rentals is not at the expense of supply of long-term accommodation.

If you’re a property investor looking to utilise short-stay accomodation, get in touch with our team today to discuss the new ‘Airbnb’ tax and how it may impact you.