Illegal Airbnb operators in Queensland’s tourist mecca are being weeded out in a “proactive” campaign that has led to 250 show cause notices being issued in the past 12 months.

But the Gold Coast City Council admits there is plenty more to do as it cracks down on unregistered short-term rentals.

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Beachside councils across the country are potentially missing out on millions of dollars in rates revenue every year from undeclared holiday rentals and are grappling with how to best regulate them during a national housing crisis.

“In the end, the council enforcement processes will catch up with these people,” council planning committee head Cameron Caldwell said.

The Gold Coast is home to one of the most cut-throat housing markets in Australia.

The holiday hotspot has a rental vacancy rate of 0.7 per cent and a post-pandemic resurgence in popularity of short-term rentals like Airbnb and Stayz are making the problem worse.

Council figures obtained by the ABC reveal that 11,252 properties are licensed as short-term rental accommodation on the Gold Coast.


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Ninety-seven per cent of those are community title schemes — for example, units in a Surfers Paradise high-rise that are rented through the building’s holiday letting pool.

The remaining 337 properties represent the most accurate estimate the city has of free-standing homes listed as short-term accommodation on websites such as Airbnb.

The council admits it is difficult to gauge how big the problem is and Airbnb would not provide the exact number of listings on the Gold Coast to the ABC.

Property manager Melinda Enriquez operates 40 Airbnb rentals on the Gold Coast and says most owners do not bother applying for council approval unless they receive a show cause notice.

“It would be the bare minimum – maybe 10 per cent – who do it correctly,” Ms Enriquez said.

“You pay the [application] fee whether council approve it or not.

“They’re worried about council saying, ‘no’ and keeping their money.”

Mr Caldwell said most Airbnb operators in high-density hotspots like Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach did the right thing, but the council had noticed a concerning trend of them “leaching” into the suburbs.

“It might just take one of these properties on a street in suburban Gold Coast to have an effect on the amenity,” he said.

“A lot of people are ignorant to the way the city plan operates and think that because their real estate agent told them they can do it that it is OK, and it is not.”

The council’s latest crackdown was launched in response to 170 complaints it received from residents last year about noise, lack of street parking and overflowing rubbish bins.

A smartphone with an Airbnb logo on it in front of the same logo being projected on a screen.  
The cost of registering holiday rentals outweighs the risk of getting caught for some owners.(Reuters: Dado Ruvic)

Why not register?

On the Gold Coast, the first step for renting out a holiday home is applying to the council for a material change of use.

The application fee is $7,138 or $9,513, depending on where the property is located, plus thousands of dollars more in town planning and consultancy fees.

Even then, there is no guarantee the application will be successful.

The ongoing cost comes in the form of a 70 per cent rate increase to compensate for the boost in the property’s income-earning potential.

Switching a home with a value of $1 million from a permanent place of residence to short-term accommodation would cost the owner approximately $6,000 per year in additional rates.

Those caught doing the wrong thing are issued a show cause notice and a $1,437 fine applies to owners who ignore the warnings and are repeatedly found in breach of local planning laws.

A big white sign that reads "lease" in front of a dark-coloured house.
The Gold Coast’s rental vacancy rate is sitting at 0.7 per cent.(ABC Gold Coast: Kimberley Bernard)

Leading the way

In Queensland, the state government is reviewing the effect of Airbnb-type rental accommodation on housing supply.

Some beachside councils, however, are already carrying a big stick to make more owners to use their investment properties as permanent rentals.

Last year, Byron Shire introduced a 180-day cap on short-term accommodation, meaning homes could only be legally rented as Airbnbs for half the year.

The council planned to reduce the cap to 90 days, but it was blocked by last-minute intervention from the New South Wales government.

In Queensland, the Noosa Shire Council launched a successful crackdown on holiday rentals owned by out-of-town investors in a bid to address its critical housing shortage.

It estimated 86 per cent of its short-stay accommodation operators were from outside Noosa Shire and that half lived outside Queensland.

An aerial view of a spectacular looking island on a glorious day.
The Noosa Shire Council has led a successful crackdown against unregistered short-stay accommodation.(Supplied: Paul Smith, Noosa World Surfing Reserve)