Long-term Upper Clutha tenant makes big money on Airbnb without telling owner

by Lauren Pattemore - Sep 12, 2023

An Upper Clutha resident was shocked to find her long-term tenant had been letting out a spare room for short-term stays but reckons this could be happening “widely” across the district.

The homeowner found out about this “breach of trust” last month after receiving a letter from the Queenstown Lakes District Council to say their rates bill would be increasing.

Turns out a neighbour of the property had informed the council of the Airbnb, which was operating illegally, as the owner hadn't obtained council consent for residential visitor accommodation activity – a requirement for all Queenstown Lakes Airbnb listings.

The homeowner's rates bill has increased by close to $2,000 as the home's purpose now falls under the QLDC 'mixed business use' category, since it's being let out for more than 120 nights of the year.

The Airbnb listing for this  house shows the room has been listed on the platform for four years for roughly $100 a night and hosted more than 90 guests in that time, some of them choosing to stay longer term.

Seeing the district’s desperate need for housing, the homeowner moved out of their home few years ago, staying elsewhere in the district, and put their home on the rental market, welcoming seemingly "lovely" tenants into their furnished three-bedroom, two-bathroom home for under $700 a week.

The tenant had also subleased a room in the home without the owner’s consent and was able to live rent-free, making a little more than $200 a week if the room was let out all seven days.

“I just wonder how many other people have been taken for a ride like this.”

The homeowner says it would be hard to know how often this was happening in the district, considering the council's enforcement team only follows up on unconsented Airbnbs when they receive complaints from other residents.

It's their belief there could be a “black market” of tenants letting out rooms because it is easy enough to do; there are plenty of visitors booking stays on the accommodation platform, and other people desperate for a room to rent.

Although the homeowner says their rent was reasonable and was “below market”, they reckon this type of Airbnb side hustle might be the only way for some to afford to live in the district.

"This could be one of the indirect impacts of the cost of living crisis...but not everyone can afford to live in paradise, there are other places with more housing stock and cheaper rent."

They were surprised that Airbnb had allowed the room to be listed with so few checks and without proof of home ownership.

After contacting the platform and explaining the situation, Airbnb has not yet removed the listing as it is up to the host not the tenant to do this.

The homeowner has asked to remain anonymous as they work out the associated “admin” this has caused them with the QLDC, and the Tenancy Tribunal.

The homeowner wanted to show another side to the “narrative in the media” that those with property in Queenstown Lakes were pulling their homes out of the long-term rental pool when situations like this were occurring.

“Landlords are taking the heat right now, but I am trying to do the right thing.”

The Upper Clutha has its own housing crisis but in this case the tenant became an undercover landlord.

They encourage landlords to explicitly exclude in rental lease agreements the ability for tenants to list rooms on short-term stay platforms.

After reading the fine print of their home insurance, the owner realised they would not have been covered if there was a housefire while an Airbnb visitor was in the house.

"If something would have happened, my insurance would have been void, it's for tenants but not for commercial operations."

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